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21 Nov 2020

Two years to kick out human rights abuses: FIFA World Cup kicks off in Qatar 21 November 2022

The surprise awarding of the FIFA World Cup to Qatar in 2010 shone a spotlight on the appalling conditions migrant workers face. After years of intense pressure, the Qatari Government has passed laws it once again says will dismantle the exploitative kafala system. It remains to be seen how transformative these changes will be, but Business & Human Rights Resource Centre found reports of workers suffering severe labour rights abuses in sectors including construction, hospitality and cleaning have increased in the context of the pandemic. Our research also shows hotels failed to carry out necessary due diligence to safeguard workers’ rights in their supply chains.

Isobel Archer, Gulf Project Officer, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said, “Since 2016 Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has tracked a total of 76 allegations of labour abuse against migrant workers in Qatar, affecting at least 11,842 workers. 75% of these allegations were made in 2019 and 2020. Unpaid or delayed wages remain the most common problem, cited by workers in 87% cases, despite the implementation of a Wage Protection System. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is stark, with 25 allegations since April. Poor or inhumane living conditions were reported in over half the cases, while unpaid wages were cited in all but one. No one will be thinking about who laid the bricks of their hotel or drove them to the stadium when the first whistle blows – so it’s essential we put an end to the abuse now.

What’s concerning is that these are only the allegations reported by NGOs and the media and therefore just the tip of the iceberg. However, the numbers clearly suggest that migrant workers in many sectors remain at risk of suffering serious abuses in the run up to the World Cup.”

Qatar’s most recent claim it had ‘ended’ the kafala sponsorship system in October 2020 by abolishing the ‘no objection certificate’ and introducing a non-discriminatory minimum wage has been cautiously welcomed by civil society. However, whether these latest changes will successfully protect Qatar’s 1.9 million migrant workers from abuse will depend on how laws are enforced and implemented.

Vani Saraswathi, Director Projects and Associate Editor, Migrant Rights said: “The reforms in Qatar over the last couple of years are significant and will have an impact beyond 2022. However, these reforms will fall short while other abusive elements of the kafala system remain in place. Absconding laws will continue to be tools of control and manipulation in the hands of unethical employers. Similarly, as long as migrants do not have the ability to renew their own residence visas, the employer's stranglehold over them will continue. Until such a time these issues are meaningfully addressed migrants will continue to be victims of forced labour.”

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre calls on national football teams and fans to use their leverage when deciding where to stay and socialise during the tournament.

Archer added, “Kick-off is two years off. This gives national football associations time to play a powerful role in improving the human rights legacy of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup. In November 2019, Liverpool FC reportedly declined to stay in the hotel offered by FIFA for the FIFA Club World Cup tournament after carrying out background checks in line with its internal human rights policies. We urge National Football associations to use their leverage as they start to make decisions about where they will stay, practice and socialise in Qatar.”

Following concerted external pressure, FIFA has taken steps to improve its approach to human rights in recent years. This includes publishing a Human Rights Policy and setting up the independent FIFA Human Rights Advisory Board). However, both FIFA and the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy insist their Workers’ Welfare Standards currently apply to only those workers engaged on stadium construction and training sites. But although matches will not be played in hotels, hospitality or entertainment venues, these locations and the workers who construct and operate them are intrinsically related to the World Cup as the country gears up to welcome an estimated 1.5 million fans.


Media contact: Pippa Woolnough, Head of Communications, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, +353 858353757, [email protected]

Notes to editors

Not all workers linked to World Cup projects are included in the scope of the Worker Welfare Standards implemented by the organisation delivering the World Cup. For more information, see FIFA’s Sustainability Strategy.


Since 2016 we have tracked a total of 76 allegations of labour abuse against migrant workers in Qatar; nearly a third (30%) of our total recorded across the six Gulf countries.

Year Number of allegations
2017 3
2018 9
2019 28
2020 (to mid November) 29

Most frequently reported abuses

Categories Number %
Conditions of employment
- Unpaid wages
- 66
- 87
Arbitrary denial of freedoms 
Occupational health & safety 
16 21
Inhumane and/ or poor living conditions 34 44
Verbal or physical abuse 20 25
Modern slavery or human trafficking 3 4
Injuries  2 3
Death  6 (18 deaths) 8

Most frequently cited sectors

Categories Number %
Construction 30 39
Sports (World Cup)* 13 17
Hospitality (catering & hotels) 8 11
Cleaning & maintenance 15 20
Security companies 10 13

*These cases reference both workers working on World Cup stadiums and cases where work on projects is explicitly linked to the World Cup.