A dozen workers per week. 600 workers per year. 4,000 workers over the next decade.
That’s how many migrant workers will die in Qatar, a country measuring a shade under 4,500 square miles, roughly the size of Connecticut, between now and the start of the 2022 World Cup, according to a report from the International Trade Union Council reported in The Guardian. And they’ll die while building the stadiums that make that World Cup possible. Those figures may be disputable — the cause of death often isn’t clear — but a similar study from The Guardian found that 44 migrant construction workers from Nepal died between June and August this year, and as World Cup stadium construction speeds up, ITUC expects the number of dead workers to reach astounding levels.
The Guardian’s investigation found evidence of forced labor at construction sites related to the World Cup, where workers were in effect treated like slaves. Workers on those sites told the paper that they hadn’t been paid for work, that their passports and identification cards had been confiscated, and that they were sleeping and working in abhorrent conditions that subjected them to stifling heat and dangerous health conditions.
This is, unfortunately, what a country that depends on cheap labor and has no labor laws or trade unions looks like. Qatar bans labor unions and has incredibly weak labor laws, so workers have virtually no protections and no ability to organize against their employers. The ITUC and other organizations are calling for reforms to those labor laws to improve conditions and prevent a startling amount of deaths and injuries. Human Rights Watch has called on the government to abolish its exit visa program, which prevents workers from leaving the country when they want to and can “expose migrant workers to the risk of exploitation and abuse.” It has also called for the abolition of a sponsorship program that “ties a migrant worker’s legal residence to his or her employer,” and it wants laws that prevent employers from engaging with subcontractors and recruitment agencies that place migrant workers in Qatari jobs.
If none of those organizations can get Qatar’s attention, FIFA needs to, Sharan Burrow, the head of ITUC, told The Guardian: “FIFA needs to send a very strong and clear message to Qatar that it will not allow the World Cup to be delivered on the back of a system of modern slavery that is the reality for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers there today.” FIFA president Sepp Blatter had admitted that giving the World Cup to Qatar may have been a mistake because of the weather, and Qatar’s Cup is quickly becoming a disaster. Now it’s time for FIFA to stand up and prevent it from becoming a much bigger disaster, one that kills thousands of workers and, even worse, leaves behind a legacy that approves of Qatar’s way of doing business.