Fifa has fallen short of its commitment to protect workers on Russia’s World Cup stadiums who have been forced to do backbreaking labour in freezing conditions without appropriate clothing and not knowing if they will be paid, according to Human Rights Watch.
With the Confederations Cup beginning in the country this week, a year before the start of the World Cup, Russia is in the spotlight, particularly for its treatment of migrant workers. However a 34-page report produced by Human Rights Watch said Fifa had failed to deliver on its promise to conduct effective monitoring of labour conditions.
According to the report, workers are often afraid to speak out about abuses, fearing reprisals from their employers. One subcontractor told an investigation by the Observer that 190 “downtrodden” North Koreans worked in “slave-like conditions” and were treated like “prisoners of war” when they were constructing stadiums last year.
In May 2016, Fifa announced it was organising a system for the first time, together with the Russian authorities, to monitor labour conditions at stadiums being built or renovated for the 2018 World Cup. But the author of the Human Rights Watch report, Jane Buchanan, said the scheme had left a lot to be desired.
“Fifa’s promise to make human rights a centrepiece of its global operations has been put to the test in Russia, and Fifa is coming up short,” she said.
“Construction workers on World Cup stadiums face exploitation and abuse, and Fifa has not yet shown that it can effectively monitor, prevent and remedy these issues.”
While the plight of migrant workers constructing stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been well documented, the danger faced by workers in Russia has only emerged recently. At least 17 have died on World Cup stadium sites, according to the Building and Wood Workers’ International global union.
The report also documents how workers on six World Cup stadium construction sites faced going unpaid or having to endure several month delays in payment. They also worked in temperatures as cold as -25C (-13F) without sufficient protection and employers’ failed to provide suitable work contracts.
Russian authorities detained a Human Rights Watch researcher seeking to interview construction workers outside the World Cup stadium in the southern Russian city of Volgograd. They questioned the researcher for more than three hours, threatened him and eventually released him without charge.
“The apparent surveillance and detention of a Human Rights Watch researcher and pressure on workers not to report abuses suggests that those responsible for labour conditions on World Cup sites have something to hide,” added Buchanan. “Football fans, players, coaches, and others have a right to know who’s building the World Cup stadiums and under what conditions. Transparency is key to any serious human rights protection.”
“Fifa and the Russian government took a notable step in organising labour monitoring on World Cup stadiums,” she added, “but to be credible, Fifa needs to make public detailed information about its inspections, what inspectors have found, and the actual results, if any, for workers. There could not be a better time for Fifa to move away from the secrecy that has plagued its operations and to show it can achieve meaningful protections for workers, and be transparent and accountable.”
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