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The FIFA Syndrome

LONDON – The arrest of FIFA executives on a raft of fraud and corruption charges has been front-page news in recent days. But the charges brought by the Swiss and American authorities focus on bribery and embezzlement, and do not address another egregious injustice: the treatment of the migrant workers in Qatar who are building the stadiums for the 2022 FIFA Football World Cup.

Amnesty International recently released a report on the abysmal conditions in Qatar. The workers are subject to unsafe construction sites, exploitative recruitment agencies, and little recourse to formal justice. Recently, Nepal’s labor minister publicly spoke out about the government of Qatar not allowing his country’s migrant workers to return home to mourn relatives who died in the April 2015 earthquake.

As Amnesty International notes, the responsibility lies primarily with the Qatari authorities. But FIFA had – and still has – a responsibility to act. There have also been calls for sponsors, including McDonalds, Visa, Coca-Cola, Adidas, Budweiser, Gazprom, KIA, and Hyundai, to place pressure on FIFA and Qatar to improve working conditions.

Such issues have arisen in recent years in other sectors as well. In April, Human Rights Watch issued a report on the treatment of garment workers in Bangladesh. The report, prompted by the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, in which more than 1,100 people died and over 2,000 were injured, highlighted poor working conditions, inadequate building inspections, weak labor laws, and the need for fairer wage practices and legal benefits.