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8 Apr 2020

World Cup & Expo 2020 Construction: COVID-19 & Risks to Migrant Workers in Qatar & the UAE

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Briefing Press Release  Co. responses Co. comments 

Migrant workers to Gulf countries - most from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Kenya – live in tightly packed, often unsanitary, labour camps – conditions perfect for the spread of COVID-19. An outbreak among construction workers in a labour camp in Qatar  prompted a swift lockdown of thousands of workers, including workers on infrastructure projects linked to the 2022 World Cup. This lockdown has led to claims the labour camps have become  a “virtual prison” and raised concerns for worker welfare, including that workers do not have access to necessary sanitation, are not being given clear information regarding the outbreak, and are being laid off without wages or a promise of re-hiring.

We asked 14 construction companies operating in Qatar and the UAE, as well as FIFA and the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy for the 2022 World Cup (Supreme Committee), to answer questions on the steps they are taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19, to assist workers who become infected, and to ensure workers do not suffer disproportionate hardship as a result of the outbreak.

Key findings

▌ All seven respondent companies and the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (Supreme
Committee) for the 2022 World Cup reported anti-infection programmes for workers.

▌ While they welcomed the Supreme Committee’s statement, FIFA’s own response did not describe any
specific steps taken by the sporting body independently to address the situation for migrant workers.

▌ Cramped worker accommodation & construction sites means social distancing is impossible; no company
clearly outlined plans to increase accommodation to allow for this.

▌ Workers are at risk of suffering severe economic hardship; only four companies - Bam International, Besix/
Six Construct, Laing O’Rourke and Vinci/QDVC– guaranteed job security for workers unable to work;
only three – Bam International, Besix/Six Construct and Vinci/QDVC- stated that workers who had to
quarantine would be entitled to their wages in full.

▌ Workers at World Cup sites appear to lack dedicated personal protective equipment (PPE), with the
Supreme Committee saying that that workers will be asked to use personal scarves when masks are not

Marti Flacks, Deputy Director, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said:

“We are deeply concerned that many global construction companies are not acting decisively to protect their migrant workforce in the Gulf, both from the disease, or from economic hardship if they become infected. FIFA and the Supreme Committee should also look to strengthen their action to protect workers that are engaged on World Cup projects.

“While some construction companies are taking welcome steps to protect the health and safety of workers during the crisis, many others are not, or are not being transparent about the steps they are taking, leaving workers ill-informed, anxious, and unprepared.

“Companies and governments are taking extraordinary steps to ensure the construction sector continues its operations, but need to do more to ensure this does not come at the expense of vulnerable workers. Companies should review and adopt the ILO guidance on labour standards and COVID-19, and look to tackle the long-term impacts this pandemic will have on workers’ livelihoods – including steps to reform their labour practices to avoid future crises.”

An advisory notice published by the Qatari Government at the end of March addresses a number of concerns around prevention of infection, provision of medical services to workers and payment of wages in full during the outbreak. Since all seven companies responded to us before this date we appreciate that they may have since taken additional steps to implement these. 

Since we published the briefing, Vinci/ QDVCLaing O'Rourke, Salini Impreglio & the Supreme Committee provided updates and clarifications on the steps they are taking. These are available under the "company comments" tab above.

Media coverage of the report can be found here.