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Press Release: FIFA still missing human rights goals as tournament starts in Saudi Arabia, a year after Qatar World Cup


12 December 2023

FIFA still missing human rights goals as tournament starts in Saudi Arabia, a year after Qatar World Cup


“When I came here, I had to face violence, one day I was feeling pain in my body, so I started taking rest for a while, at the same time the supervisor came and abused me and slapped me twice. After that I was instructed and threatened that if this happens again, I will be fired from the job.” - Anil*, a maintenance worker employed in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 


The Club World Cup begins today in Saudi Arabia. FIFA’s decision to select Saudi Arabia as the venue for the tournament, and the likely prospect that the Gulf Kingdom will be hosting the 2034 Men’s World Cup raises serious doubts about FIFA’s capacity to respect its human rights responsibilities, Equidem said today. Equidem’s team of migrant worker investigators have been monitoring labour conditions in Saudi Arabia and found that they are facing dire human rights violations across the hospitality, maintenance and construction sectors which are critical to the delivery of sporting events.  

“According to the findings of our brave investigators who have worked across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and talked to hundreds of workers who paint a devastating picture, Saudi Arabia is not adhering to the requirements of FIFA’s binding human rights policy when it comes to bidding for and hosting international football tournaments,” Mustafa Qadri, the CEO of Equidem, said. “That FIFA has engaged the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, after failing in its responsibilities during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar demonstrates that the organization cannot be trusted to follow its own standards when it comes to human rights.” 

Equidem has been monitoring labour conditions for the estimated 10 million women and men, mostly from Africa, Asia and other parts of the Middle East, working in Saudi Arabia. Between February 2021 and December 2023 Equidem’s migrant worker investigators have spoken to hundreds of workers and carried out confidential one-to-one interviews with 41 migrant workers for a report to be released next year. They describe an environment of the legal exclusion of migrant workers, discrimination, exploitation and suppression of freedom of association. The persistence of rights violations and perpetuation of this context where migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation violates fundamental human and labour rights and underscores the inadequacy of labour and migration reform processes.

“These factors indicate that Saudi Arabia does not meet FIFA requirements for protecting human rights. It is hard to see how its bid to host the 2034 World Cup would pass FIFA’s human rights assessment,” Qadri said.


“Here you have to complete your work on time. Otherwise, money will be deducted from your salary. You can't relax while working here. If anyone is caught resting, he will not get his salary for that day and there will also be abuses. That's why no one rests here” - Rohit*, a maintenance worker employed in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 


In 2017 FIFA published a “Guide to the bidding process for the 2026 FIFA World Cup,” which includes a stated requirement that all countries bidding to host the tournament should uphold international standards in protecting human rights as a criteria for selection. That same year FIFA also adopted a human rights policy within its fundamental statute. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was chosen to host the 2023 Club World Cup and is exclusively being considered to be the host of the 2034 World Cup. As detailed in our upcoming report, this is alarming considering labour rights conditions in the country and widespread human rights violations by Saudi Arabia authorities. In addition, despite FIFA’s guide being published well before the decision to choose Saudi Arabia as the host for the Club World Cup, none of its elements seem to have applied in their decision-making process as there has been no reporting on any due diligence done prior to making their decision. 

Equidem has documented multiple failures of the host of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar, to meet basic standards for human rights and labour practices. Equidem contacted FIFA on multiple occasions in the months before and after the World Cup, providing detailed worker testimony from 144 workers on labour rights violations on FIFA stadiums and in FIFA partner hotels and security companies. FIFA’s staff responsible for its human rights responsibilities acknowledged receiving this information and discussed aspects of it with the Equidem team on numerous occasions. However, apart from a formal written response affirming the organisation’s commitment to human rights, FIFA did not substantively respond to information about the worker exploitation cases shared by Equidem. 


“I sleep with a half empty stomach most days. When we went to demand our salary, we were threatened by the company: ‘if you speak, you will be sent to jail.’”- Ishaan*, a construction worker employed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia  


FIFA’s human rights responsibilities are not limited to Qatar and Saudi Arabia. FIFA must also carry out ongoing monitoring with regards to the human rights situations in Canada, Mexico and the United States who will host the 2026 World Cup. The United States has been supplying arms to Israel for its ongoing military operations in Gaza, the Occupied West Bank and Southern Lebanon that may make it complicit in grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and international crimes. Additionally, increasingly restrictive laws and court rulings on women’s rights to healthcare amount to human rights violations. Last year, Mexico was named the deadliest place in the world to be a journalist after a watchdog group documented attacks on reporters and media workers.  

If FIFA chooses to partner with countries that may be complicit in war crimes, where journalists are disappeared and killed, persecute and execute human rights defenders, subject women and members of the LGBTI+ community to discrimination and persecution, and continue to operate an exploitative and discriminatory foreign labour regime that puts thousands at risk of human trafficking and forced labour, it raises serious questions about its capacity to meet its human rights responsibilities.  

“If FIFA followed the rules of its own game, it could be a real source for good in the world. FIFA and football supporters expect the very best from the athletes competing at the Club World Cup, it should be the same from FIFA when it comes to its binding human rights policy,” Qadri said.  

*Name changed for security




Phone: +44 (0) 204 537 1165.



About Equidem 

Equidem is a rightsholder-centered organization committed to advancing labour rights and human rights globally. Equidem employs a unique approach, placing rightsholders at the forefront not only of our work but as members of our team to bridge the gap between the international and grassroots human rights movements. We focus on innovative, rigorous and impactful evidence-based advocacy and campaigns and are specialists in exposing injustice in high-surveillance and sensitive contexts, whether it’s megasporting events, prison-like consumer-brand supply chains in special economic zones, or industries at the heart of the just transition. Equidem is headquartered in the UK with mixed expert and rightsholder teams in East, West and South Africa, South and South East Asia, and the Arab Gulf regions.