The Legacy of Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022
2 July 2023
2 July 2023
The Legacy of Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022
FIFA President Gianni Infantino claimed The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 was "the best World Cup ever.” But its true legacy can only be understood through the stories of the thousands of migrant workers who made the tournament possible.
Equidem’s investigators, who include former Qatar World Cup workers who faced exploitation themselves, spoke to hundreds of women and men across different sectors – Hospitality, Construction, Security, and Transportation – who were exploited and faced a multitude of abuses. These workers paid thousands of dollars in illegal recruitment fees to get to Qatar, some took out loans and sold valuable land to cover the costs. In Qatar, they worked long hours with few breaks, in some cases under the excruciating sun, and faced routine verbal and physical abuse from their supervisors, as well as salary and overtime wages that went unpaid. In addition, workers were living in constant fear of reprisal for speaking out on any of these violations, and some of those who did were wrongfully detained and deported back to their home country. Others we have spoken with, who wished to speak out, were never given the opportunity as they were sent back to their accommodations when FIFA came for inspections. This was done to prevent them from reporting any rights violations.
FIFA made $7.5 billion over the past 4 years in the lead-up to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, at the expense of the hundreds of migrant workers who made the tournament possible. One example of this can be seen in our investigation of Stark Security Services. After speaking with nearly 80 former employees, we learned that hundreds of migrant workers hired for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 by Stark Security Services were terminated without notice and fulfilment of their contracts, and then detained and deported back to their home countries. Muhammad Tayyeeb Khan, a former Stark Security guard from Pakistan told us:
“In jail, we faced a bunch of problems. Everyone was crying. We realised the hopes that we left with, we were unable to fulfil them. And then we were deported back to our countries”
These workers who were hired with 6-month contracts beginning in August and September, were informed of their termination once the tournament was over in mid-December, when they still had up to two months left on their contracts. They were told to leave the accommodation and to sign a document agreeing that their employment was over, so that they could receive partial wages for the month of December. Some took the money, leaving the accommodation, and many found themselves homeless, in search of new opportunities in a country that now had very few, with the World Cup coming to an end. Many refused and stayed in the accommodation until they were paid the full salary they were promised.
After a month of holding out in the accommodation, refusing to leave, about 250 workers organised themselves to take buses to the Stark Security main office at Laffan Tower in Doha, planning to negotiate the collection of the remainder of their salary. Before arriving, they were stopped by Stark Security management in the middle of the road. The police were called, they were all detained and in the subsequent days deported back to their country of origin. Lamin Tamba, a former Stark Security guard from The Gambia told us,
“They met us on our way to the office to collect our salaries and arrested us... at the jail we were told nothing for a while till the time we were told that our papers for deportation are done and told us that you are criminals, and you are deported to your various countries"
For those who are now back home, the situation is even more dire than before they arrived, as they are now out of pocket with thousands owed to them, in debt from taking out loans to cover visa costs, and more vulnerable as a result. In one case, a former Stark Employee from Pakistan “took [his] grandmother’s wedding ring for this visa” to fund the trip and feels especially hopeless and worried for his future.
Three of the organisers– Shakir Ullah and Zafar Iqbal, both Pakistani nationals, and Mohammad Tanveer, an Indian national – remain in prison in Qatar as they were sentenced to 6 months prison and fined 10,000 Qatari Riyal (US $2,747), for having organised the group to attend Stark Security’s headquarters. They were punished according to Articles 11, 15 and 17 from Law Number 18 of 2004. These articles refer to public meetings and processions, and the allegations claimed that Ullah, Iqbal, and Tanveer were endangering the State’s safety and internal security. The Qatar authorities have made it evident that they do not recognize the right to peaceful protest and assembly. These three men, in addition to the hundreds of workers that went with them, simply wanted to peacefully negotiate the collection of their remaining salary. They were the only three men that made it off the bus before everyone was arrested, a stark reminder that Qatar is a hostile environment for workers. The labour reforms they have implemented cannot be effective if the state continues to silence workers and suppress their rights.
The dehumanising nature of the working atmosphere revolved around the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar, and the disregard for internationally recognised human rights, with employers able to act with impunity, can also be seen in Equidem’s investigation into the company On Time Express. Employees of this company, who were involved in the construction of fan accommodation sites and fan zones have described a situation that can be classified as human trafficking and forced labour. Camara, Bubacarr, Lamin, and Omar* are former employees of this company based in Qatar, with little to no information about its origins and owner available anywhere. These workers lead the charge against human trafficking and forced labour that they experienced first-hand. Before arriving, each of them sacrificed a great deal: they were charged thousands of dollars by recruitment agents, ranging between $1,933 and $3,845, for visas to Qatar. The agents promised that they would receive full-time jobs as delivery drivers on arrival and stay in reasonable accommodation. Great effort was made to make this journey possible: Lamin and Omar’s mother sold their family compounds, while Bubacarr and Camara sold their land, all in the hopes of a better life, to make enough money to provide for their families. Omar told us,
“After my mom and I heard about the chances opening in Qatar because they won the race to host the World Cup, the only thing that came to our mind was getting a way for us to be there. [My] mom put our land up for sale and we moved to a single-bedroom rental.”
The reality, however, was far worse than they could have imagined. On arrival in Qatar, the workers were taken to dirty and overcrowded rooms, staying with as many as 15 people in cramped and unhygienic living conditions. They were entirely reliant on On Time Express’ managers, having no knowledge of the local language, and no community ties locally or elsewhere in the country. They were told that they must work daily wage jobs, which included working on the construction of FIFA World Cup fan accommodation and fan zone sites, as well as setting up tents in 974 Stadium. The managers took as much as two-thirds of the wages they earned each day. Omar told us,
“I once momentarily lost consciousness working directly under the hot sun and when I complained to [my manager] about it he just told me to drink lots of water and did not bother taking me to the hospital"
When Camara, Bubacarr, Lamin, and Omar filed complaints to the Qatari Ministry of Labour, they faced yet more backlash and intimidation. On Time Express’ manager threatened to destroy their legal documents and deport them back to The Gambia if they did not withdraw the case. Most of them felt they had no choice but to drop their complaint, for fear of what the company would do. Camara told us why they dropped the case:
“There was no option anymore because the country was founded there, and we are in their country… He told us that we are in a country that we don’t know anything about it. He even said that he would block us and send us back to our home country. So, we were also afraid of that”
Ultimately, each worker found a job with a different company, Stark Security Services, and asked the manager if they could move on to work there instead. Part of this negotiation involved dropping their complaint with the Ministry of Labour, as well as individually paying the manager thousands of dollars. One worker, Lamin, agreed to pay him 15,000 QAR (equivalent to $4,120), of which he was only able to pay 6,000 QAR (equivalent to $1,648) before being wrongfully detained and deported back to The Gambia.
Camara (Left), Lamin (Center), Bubacarr (Right)
These are just two among the numerous cases we have collected, that outline the vast number of violations the workers who made the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar possible faced. FIFA, who made $7.5bn (£6bn) from the World Cup, must compensate these workers who allowed for them to profit immensely. We continue to receive messages every day from workers whose rights have been violated, and we will continue to shine a light on their stories and fight for the compensation they are owed. FIFA has set aside money for a legacy fund that is “dedicated to establishing a labour excellence hub in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The role of the programmes will be to share best practices in labour matters and support adherence to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights when hosting FIFA tournaments." If FIFA truly wants to leave a positive legacy on labour rights, it is simple – compensate workers for financial costs and other harms they endured.
What these worker’s stories tell us about FIFA is clear – they cannot be trusted on human rights. In March this year, they announced a human rights subcommittee that would assess the human rights legacy of the Qatar World Cup tournament. Yet, as they continue to put on some of the largest sporting events in the world, with the Women’s World Cup starting in Australia and New Zealand on 20 July 2023, there has been no further update as to the status of that assessment, nor what learnings they plan to take forward for their next major sporting event. We fear for the damage that will be caused to the lives of those they do not appear to value. But we will continue to hold them to account, as Equidem is well placed to do because our own team includes workers in FIFA’s supply chains. We will continue to share the stories of workers who have suffered and faced exploitation, amidst FIFA’s ongoing failure to adequately protect human rights in its multi-billion-dollar enterprises are inexcusable. It has the resources to prevent and remedy each and every violation, and we won’t stop until they do.
Equidem is a human and labour rights organisation, anchored in the global south. We work globally and locally to promote the rights of marginalised communities and accountability for serious human rights violations by governments, businesses and individuals.