(WFI) Qatar World Cup organisers insist they are committed to accelerating progress in workers’ welfare following Amnesty’s damning report on migrant construction workers.
Nasser Al-Khater, communications & marketing director at Qatar 2022, spoke to less than a handful of journalists in Doha – of which INSIDER was one – just hours after the report that documented widespread exploitation and abuse of workers was published.
“For us we’ve always said that the World Cup is a tool that has the power of accelerating progress on different fronts and we believe in that,” Al-Khater said.
“We are sure that it’s a catalyst to speed up physical progress on infrastructure and, putting a firm date on delivering a lot of vital infrastructure projects that are necessary for the World Cup, that there is a lot of progress that will be made on the social, human and environmental fronts as well.”
He said the issue of workers welfare was one of them. “We’ve always said that we are committed to ensuring that the workers working on Qatar 2022 are offered the safety, security and dignity they deserve.
“That is enshrined in our defining principles where our workers’ charter goes out to define our overriding principles so our workers’ standards that will go to all our contracts use that as a basis and a guidance so that dignity, safety, security of all the workers is met.”
Despite reports last month in The Guardian newspaper revealing the mistreatment of construction workers involved in World Cup-related projects, Al-Khater emphasised that the Qatar 2022 organising committee was heavily involved in making sure that workers’ conditions were being improved on building sites.
He added: “We are basing our charter on Qatar’s laws which are actually quite robust. We recognise that Qatar has worked with the ILO on the labour laws.
But he conceded that there were some issues “when it comes to enforcement of these laws”.
Al-Khater explained that a three-tiered mechanism was being put in place – for the contractor, for Qatar 2022’s external auditors and another for government auditors – “to make sure that everybody working on Q2022 initiatives, all the contractors are abiding by the standards we put in place”.
The Amnesty report, produced following the organisation’s visits to the Gulf state in October 2012 and March 2013, is based on interviews with around 200 migrant workers.
The plight of many construction workers’ was heightened by a media report in which the International Trade Union Confederation predicted thousands of deaths on World Cup construction sites. It brought more negative headlines for Qatar 2022 amid ongoing questions about the Gulf nation’s preparations that now include a FIFA consultation about moving the tournament to the winter months.
“It makes our
jobs difficult yes, but we always welcome challenges. The World Cup as with all other World Cups brings with it challenges along with the media scrutiny,” Al-Khater said.
“I think as long as people’s intentions are in the right place and are committed on delivering towards those intentions I think that whatever negative or adverse publicity we are getting will slowly change. Being a country that is hosting a major event I think just attracts this kind of publicity.”
Admitting it was a difficult time for organisers, he defended Qatar and 2022 officials: “The only time people want to portray it is in a negative light and all the good work that is done seems like it is a given and not worth mentioning which I think is a very skewed picture, which is deeply frustrating.”
FIFA Brushes Off Amnesty Criticism
Amnesty’s report and its officials on Sunday blasted FIFA for not taking a more pro-active role to prevent the abuse of World Cup workers.
In a statement sent to INSIDER , FIFA said it had made very clear in previous official statements and in communication with human rights organisations in the past that it “upholds the respect for human rights and the application of international norms of behaviour as a principle and part of all our activities”.
“FIFA understands and shares Amnesty International’s efforts towards social justice and respect of human rights and dignity which are very much anchored in the statutes and purpose of FIFA as an organization,” it said.
“FIFA also expects that the hosts of its competitions fully respect these.”
There was no reference in FIFA’s statement to any elements of the widespread and routine abuse of construction workers documented in Amnesty’s dossier; some Nepalese workers said they were “treated like cattle”.
Instead, FIFA references president Sepp Blatter’s visit to Qatar on Nov. 9 November and his meeting with the new Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, claiming he had received “a firm commitment” from the World Cup hosts to tackle the issue.
Restating comments made last week following Blatter’s trip, FIFA said Qatar was aware of various issues and has started to react with authorities set to amend labour laws: “Special attention will be paid to the different inspections that are necessary, the government inspectors will receive more powers to enforce the labour legislation.”
FIFA also reiterated that the Qatari authorities and 2022 organisers were in contact with the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) union, with the Human Rights Watch and with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), while a workers’ welfare charter was publicly available and workers’ welfare standards under development.
“FIFA firmly believes in the positive power that the FIFA World Cup can have in Qatar and in the Middle East as a great opportunity for the region to discover football as a platform for positive social change, including an improvement of labour rights and conditions for migrant workers,” the statement concluded.
By INSIDER’s Christian Radnedge in Doha
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