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Qatar W/Cup: Security guards subject to forced labour, claims Amnesty report

FIFA are “directly linked to and in some cases contributed to” shocking human rights abuses of migrant workers at private security firms in Qatar, who were subjected to “forced labour” on projects linked to this year’s World Cup, according to a scathing new report by Amnesty International.

The report found that FIFA “failed to put in place adequate processes” to prevent the abuse or carry out “due diligence” on three private security firms contracted by the world governing body, who were found to have mistreated workers.

The findings revealed that FIFA are still contracting one of the companies, with Amnesty warning that unless the governing body “take urgent action…it is highly likely this [abuse] will continue during the World Cup tournament itself”.

The findings in the 74-page report came from interviews with 34 current and former employees from eight private security companies, up to February this year.

Each of the firms was found to “have in some way failed to meet their responsibility to respect human rights under international standards and have breached various provisions of Qatari law”.

The companies provided services for sites including government ministries and football stadiums, as well as other infrastructure projects essential for the World Cup, such as hotels, transport systems and sports facilities. At least three provided security for recent FIFA tournaments, including the Club World Cup.

The report states: “Neither FIFA nor the Supreme Committee conducted adequate due diligence before contracting the three private security companies highlighted in this report and they both failed to identify in a timely manner the full range of abuses experienced by workers in order that they be effectively addressed and remedied.

“As a result, by the time some abuses had been identified, FIFA and its organizing partner had already benefitted from these companies’ services. They were therefore directly linked to and in some cases contributed to the harms suffered by guards in these companies.

“They are still contracting with one of the companies, and therefore may still be directly linked or contributing to further abuse. Unless they take urgent action to strengthen their due diligence it is highly likely this will continue during the World Cup tournament itself.”

Tens of thousands of migrant workers are employed in the private security sector in Qatar and the report described the “very serious abuse” as “systemic and structural”.

Among the abuses of workers detailed in the report were:

– a majority of security guards working 12-hour days, with no time off, for months and sometimes years on end

– huge fines for mistakes at work

– pay discrimination on the basis of nationality, race and language

– substandard and “unsanitary” living conditions, with up to 10 people sharing cramped rooms

– workers being threatened with large salary deductions if they want to take rest days

– dangerous working conditions, with guards forced work outside without shelter in searing heat

– half of the security companies not paying overtime at the rate required by law

Amnesty said the abuses had been allowed to flourish by the Qatari government’s failure to properly enforce the country’s new reforms, and accused FIFA and its World Cup delivery partner of failing to deliver on promises “to improve the working and living conditions” of the country’s migrant workers.

One security guard from Bangladesh said he did not have a day off for three years, while another, from Kenya said: “They pay us by nationality. You may find a Kenyan is earning 1,300, but the same security from the Philippines gets 1,500. Tunisians, 1,700. Pay is according to nationality”.

Another said his bosses used racist stereotypes to justify harsh and discriminatory treatment. “They say ‘you are an African, you can work 12 hours because you are strong’,” he said.

Accounts of racial discrimination echo the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur – who visited Qatar in late 2019 – on contemporary forms of racism.

Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty’s head of economic and social justice, said: “Employers are still exploiting their workers in plain sight, and the Qatari authorities must take urgent measures to protect workers and hold abusers accountable.

“Many of the security guards we spoke to knew their employers were breaking the law but felt powerless to challenge them.

“Physically and emotionally exhausted, workers kept reporting for duty under threat of financial penalties – or worse, contract termination or deportation.

“Despite the progress Qatar has made in recent years, our research suggests that abuses in the private security sector – which will be increasingly in demand during the World Cup – remain systematic and structural.

“With the World Cup just months away, FIFA must focus on doing more to prevent abuses in the inherently perilous private security sector, or see the tournament further marred by abuse.

“More broadly, FIFA must also use its leverage to pressure Qatar to better implement its reforms and enforce its laws. Time is fast running out – if better practices are not established now, abuses will continue long after fans have gone home.”

As part of a lengthy statement in response to the report, a FIFA spokesperson said: “FIFA is steadfast in its commitment to ensure respect for internationally recognised human rights across all its operations and events in accordance with FIFA’s Human Rights Policy and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. FIFA does not accept any abuse of workers by companies involved in the preparation and delivery of the FIFA World Cup 2022…

“As part of its regular and ongoing engagement with Amnesty International in relation to the upcoming World Cup, FIFA has provided detailed information about the cases mentioned in their report and the corrective measures that have been applied with the companies involved.”

In response to the allegations, Qatar’s Ministry of Labour said last month that they “do not represent underlying issues with the robust system Qatar has introduced”, and that the prevalence of rule-breaking by companies is in decline.

The Supreme Committee meanwhile stated that “a programme of the scale of the SCs, which is unique even from an international perspective, will always have contractors who will try to bypass the system”.

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