BWI and its Swiss affiliate Unia protest outside the FIFA headquarters in Zurich last year Qatar is a slave state in the desert. If this doesn’t change, need to take the 2022 World Cup away from them. Recent reports in the Guardian have highlighted the …

BWI and its Swiss affiliate Unia protest outside the FIFA headquarters in Zurich last year

BWI and its Swiss affiliate Unia protest outside the FIFA headquarters in Zurich last year

Qatar is a slave state in the desert. If this doesn’t change, need to take the 2022 World Cup away from them.

Recent reports in the Guardian have highlighted the appalling human rights abuses in the construction sites of Qatar, as it prepares to host the 2022 Football World Cup.

This is not news to trade union activists, who have been campaigning on this issue ever since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar.

The Indian government confirms that more than 500 of its citizens have been killed; the death toll for Nepalese workers stands at 400. The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that 4,000 workers will lose their lives before the opening whistle.

The root of the problem is the fact that almost all labour – 94% – is done by migrant workers, under the kefala visa sponsorship system. This ties workers to their employers, who keep hold of their passports: workers can’t leave the country, change jobs, open a bank account, rent accommodation, get a drivers’ license or do anything else without their employers’ permission.

They are kept in conditions of serfdom and have absolutely no rights that their employers don’t grant to them. This includes the right to organise: Qatari law denies migrant workers the right to form or join trade unions. Because they have no collective voice, they are unable to take action to improve their conditions, or safety on site.

There has been a lot of activism on the issue: visits to Qatar by trade union delegates, a protest outside the Qatari embassy in London, an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons, a Femen action on a TV show, and a petition telling FIFA to rerun the vote.

So far, the campaign tactic has been to put pressure on FIFA to take the World Cup away from Qatar if labour standards aren’t met. This is beginning to have some effect: FIFA have put out a statement saying that fair working conditions are essential. However, they are not yet showing any indication that they will take the World Cup from Qatar, and the government of Qatar is not budging.

Equal Times has some good analysis of the campaign so far.

What can we do? 

This is about money and power. Qatari employers use kefala because it gives them absolute power over their workers, and allows them to extract massive profits. The Qatari government protects the system, because their economy relies on it. And FIFA’s continued wealth and prestige relies on the World Cup going smoothly.

Realpolitik suggests that no change will happen unless we make the status quo too expensive for Qatar and FIFA. We need to increase the cost of not taking action by interrupting the smooth running of the World Cup.

We can do this keeping the pressure up, and also find ways to put pressure directly on the Qatari government. We need to make this World Cup absolutely toxic, so that it is impossible for news or sports reports to mention it without also mentioning the horrifying death toll and the conditions of workers.

The way to do this is to continue sharing stories like this one through social media, and to link up with all the campaign groups around the world who are campaigning on this issue.

This is not a campaign that we will win with one tweet, Facebook like or branch motion. It’s going to take continual pressure, possibly over a number of years. But we can win – the tide is turning, across the world, against this kind of exploitation. From the Bangladesh Safety Accord – brought about by unions after the Rana Plaza disaster – to the Blood Bricks campaign against slavery in India’s brick kilns, people across the world are saying: enough is enough.

Slavery belongs in history books.

No world cup without workers’ rights

Sign the petition: 

rerun qatar


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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