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18 Jun 2024

Saudi Arabia: FIFA "failing" to uphold its own human rights standards by entertaining Saudi Arabia bid for 2034 World Cup, finds Equidem


Saudi Arabia does not meet FIFA requirements for protecting human rights. Accordingly, to uphold their human rights commitments, FIFA must ensure that the Saudi Arabia bid to host FIFA World Cup 2034 includes actionable and binding commitments to address risk factors for rights violations prior to confirmation.
Equidem, "Broken Promises: Forced Labour in Saudi Arabia and the Fast Tracked World Cup Bid"

In June 2024, Equidem released a report, titled “Broken Promises: Forced Labour in Saudi Arabia and the Fast Tracked World Cup Bid”, highlighting systematic human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. The report says these violations breach FIFA’s binding human rights eligibility requirements, as Saudi Arabia is the exclusive bidder to host the 2034 Football World Cup.

The report is based on interviews with 42 migrant workers in hospitality, maintenance and construction, conducted in 2020, 2021 and 2023. It comes amid widespread allegations of human rights violations in the country, including a recent landmark complaint filed by Building and Wood Workers’ International and supported by several unions and civil society groups on Saudi Arabia's failure to observe ILO conventions on forced labour.

Equidem's report calls for FIFA to “apply and enhance its binding and actionable commitments to address human rights violations” as a condition of confirming Saudi Arabia’s bid, and says FIFA is failing to uphold its own standards by entertaining the bid. Equidem shared its findings with FIFA; FIFA did not respond.

When I first got here, I didn’t know much about this place. I’ve had to endure a lot of verbal abuse and I have been slapped. Now, I just keep my head down and work quietly.
Indian maintenance worker employed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, interviewed by Equidem

Workers describe a range of rights violations, including conditions of forced labour:

  • Discrimination: 42% of workers reported experiencing discrimination at work, and 16% of workers said Saudi nationals were exclusively hired for supervisory roles.
  • Exploitative recruitment: 70% of workers were deceived about the terms and conditions of their employment, and 53% of workers were charged fees for their jobs, with workers in some cases borrowing money at high interest to cover costs.
  • Withholding passports: 12% of workers had their passports confiscated by employers.
  • Violence and intimidation: 7% of workers describe experiencing physical violence at work, and 16% reported being subjected to verbal abuse. Equidem found patterns of abuse were so “pervasive” they were “normalised”.
  • Excessive production targets: 16% of workers said they had to complete unreasonable amounts of work. Workers describe punitive punishments for failing to complete excessive workloads.
  • Occupational health and safety violations: 9% of workers experienced health issues after prolonged heat exposure at work.
  • Obstacles accessing remedy: trade unions are prohibited in the country. Workers try to organise informally, and 14% of workers said they were not allowed to do so and could face persecution if caught. Workers also describe retaliation for raising complaints, with 35% of workers said they did not have access to adequate grievance mechanisms.

The report also emphasises failures in labour laws in the country, and the impact of the Kafala system, which the report says systematically discriminates based on national origin.

The report makes several recommendations to FIFA, including requiring an explicit pubic commitment from Saudi Arabia to respect human rights in line with the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights; requiring Saudi Arabia to uphold its obligations under the ILO conventions it has ratified, and to ratify several other conventions, such as the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention; requiring a human rights strategy from Saudi Araba on how to identify and address human rights risks; calling for the country to make several measures 'requirements' for all companies involved in the construction of stadiums, training sites, hotels, and airports, such as proof of timely & in full wage payments; and establishing health standards for employer-provided accommodation. The report also makes several recommendations to Saudi Arabia, the states of workers’ origin countries; and to companies investing or operating in Saudi Arabia.