Migrants who built stadiums for the World Cup in Qatar worked under exploitative and unsafe conditions that in some instances were concealed from soccer authorities, the human rights group Equidem said.
In a report featuring interviews with 60 migrant workers, the group said it found widespread labor violations, including nationality-based discrimination, illegal recruitment practices, and unpaid wages. The allegations add to a picture of prevalent labor abuses despite the country’s attempt to use the prestigious event to burnish its global reputation.
An Indian migrant worker told Equidem: “If local people take rest at work, supervisors don’t scold them—even if they repeatedly stop to drink water or go to the toilet. This is not the same for migrants.”
FIFA’s decision in 2010 to give the World Cup to Qatar drew criticism from the start, with even the former head of the sport’s governing body recently calling it a “bad choice,” citing its size.
The lack of existing soccer facilities meant the Gulf state—the smallest country to ever host the World Cup—had to go on a stadium-building spree using hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers. Like most Arab Gulf states, Qatar has a “kafala” sponsorship system that ties migrant workers’ right to stay in the country to their jobs. This bars them from quitting without the permission of their employers and prevents them from speaking up against abuses.
This dynamic has persisted in the run-up to the World Cup that kicked off on Sunday, according to the testimonies compiled and released by Equidem earlier this month.
“They show [us] that workers who complain will have a police case filed against them and may even be sent to jail,” said an Indian electrician.
The worker was employed by Hamad Bin Khalid (HBK) Contracting, a company owned by the country’s royal family.
One of several contractors named as labor rights offenders in the report, HBK has also been accused of covering up abhorrent work conditions, keeping workers from interacting with football authorities.
“On the days where there is talk of inspection, we were sent elsewhere for duty or sent to the camp,” another Indian worker for HBK, who helped build the Al Bayt Stadium, told Equidem.
Qatar’s ruling family did not respond to requests for comment. In the report, Equidem said four contractors denied allegations of wrongdoing and HBK did not respond to the claims.
Qatar and FIFA jointly spent $229 billion on constructing World Cup sites, but as many as one in six workers said they did not receive their full wages, according to Equidem.
Anish Adhikari, a 27-year-old air conditioning technician from Nepal, worked at Lusail Stadium, one of eight sites hosting the games. He was promised 800 riyals ($219.70) along with free food and accommodation worth 200 riyals ($54.93).
“I had to climb a height to work. Nepali workers had to go to the height. We are brave. We worked there. Others were afraid of such heights. The company said, ‘Nepali workers who will go there, I will give you more overtime.’ We never got this extra payment. This was all a lie. I did not get paid for the work I did,” Adhikari said in his testimony.
After unexpected deductions, Adhikari said he was paid 600 riyals ($164.78) monthly.
“Workers who complained were sent back,” Adhikari added.
In August, Qatar deported scores of workers for protesting against unpaid and delayed wages, the Middle East Eye reported. According to the London-based online news outlet, some workers were also deported for allegedly breaching the country’s public security laws.
Equidem’s report revealed that among the deported were migrant workers from Nepal, India, Jordan Egypt, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. About half of them were Nepalese, while the rest were from India, Jordan, Egypt, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.
Osama, a worker involved in a strike on August 14, told Equidem: “They put us in jail without an investigation, without any case or charge for nine days. They took a picture of us like we are criminals.”
Equidem’s report also alleges harsh working conditions and limited access to shelter and water under temperatures as high as 45 to 55 degrees Celsius during the summer.
Adhikari told Equidem that some workers died on the job. He said two, from Bangladesh and China, fatally fell from heights.
FIFA’s President Gianni Infantino has accused Western critics of hypocrisy in an hourlong monologue on the eve of the tournament. Equidem called his remarks an “insult” to workers who made the World Cup possible.