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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Saudi Arabia, Likely World Cup Host, Slammed With Workers’ Rights Abuse Claims

  • A group of trade unions filed complaints alleging severe human-rights abuses for migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.
  • The nation is FIFA’s likely pick to host and would need to construct at least 10 stadiums.
Jun 16, 2022; New York, New York, USA; A detail view of The FIFA World Cup Trophy sits on a stand outside of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports

Saudi Arabia, FIFA’s top choice for the 2034 World Cup, has been slammed with allegations of severe human-rights abuses concerning the treatment of migrant workers.

Building and Wood Workers’ International, a federation of trade unions, filed two complaints Wednesday with the International Labour Organization, a United Nations human rights agency, alleging “rampant” signs of forced labor. It says at least 21,000 migrants in Saudi Arabia, where workers don’t have the right to unionize, were kept from their wages and passports, charged illegal recruitment fees, restricted from being able to freely leave their job, forced to work to pay off debts, and suffered psychical and sexual violence, especially among women and domestic workers.

Similar to Qatar, the hosts of the 2022 edition, Saudi Arabia has a large migrant worker population, and the country needs to build a large number of stadiums. The nation would need to build up to 10 stadiums to meet the hosting requirement of 14. While Qatar’s World Cup was played during November and December to avoid extreme temperatures—likely the same schedule that would be followed in Saudi Arabia—construction took place in 125-degree heat. Saudi Arabia said that between 400 and 500 migrant workers died during construction, though that number has been reported as more than 6,500.

“FIFA must stop placing itself above international labour norms and its own human rights statutory obligations,” BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia has been FIFA’s clear front-runner for hosting the event since the fall, though the decision still hasn’t been made official. European lawyers in May compelled FIFA to consider its own regulations before picking Saudi Arabia as its 2034 host, citing human rights abuses including the treatment of migrant workers in May.

The abuses are said to have taken place over nearly a decade while working for major construction companies that have since folded. The BWI said some workers have started receiving their wages, but a large number of them are still waiting and are situated in “extreme vulnerability to abuses.” BWI said that trade unions around the world are supporting its complaint, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

The ILO received a similar complaint a decade ago concerning working conditions for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, according to the Associated Press. Qatar worked with the ILO to undo much of its migrant worker system, which many human rights organizations view as a form of slavery.

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