FIFA lawsuit (re migrant workers, Qatar)

Snapshot:

In December 2016, two trade union organizations, and a Bangladeshi worker filed a lawsuit in Switzerland against FIFA. They allege FIFA’s complicity in the alleged abuse of migrant workers in Qatar. In January 2017, the Swiss courts dismissed the lawsuit due to the vagueness of the claims.

Migrant_workers_in_West_Bay_Doha_credit_Alex_Sergeev

Factual background:

Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA football World Cup. It is a country known for a high risk of labour abuse against migrant workers, who face discrimination and exploitation under the kafala system, a legacy of domestic labour law regulations. It ensures the balance of power remains with the employer on whom the workers are dependent for sponsorship, permission to leave the country, permission to change employers and the visas that allow them to remain in the country legally. Despite partial reforms in Qatar, it is unclear to how effective they will be on migrant workers’ rights.

The Dutch trade union FNV, the Bangladeshi Free Trade Union Congress, the Bangladesh Building and Wood Workers Federation and the Bangladeshi citizen Nadim Shariful Alam claim that FIFA should have asked Qatar to abolish the kafala system to ensure fundamental rights of migrants worker, before awarding the  hosting of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that the kafala system revokes the right of migrant workers to change jobs, leave the country if and when they chose to, and the right to unionise. Before filing the lawsuit, they gave three weeks to FIFA to acknowledge its complicity and pay damages.

Legal argument:

On 8 December 2016, the plaintiffs requested the court to find FIFA responsible for alleged human rights abuses relating to migrant workers working on construction sites for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

First, the plaintiffs requested the court to order FIFA to put an end to the controversial kafala system, thus ensuring that human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrant workers are preserved and putting a stop to the alleged human rights abuses (“Claim 1”). Alternatively, they asked the Court to declare the unlawfulness of the aforementioned violations (“Claim 2”). The Bangladeshi worker Nadim Shariful Alam sought USD 4,000 in damages and a satisfaction amounting to CHF 30,000 (approx. USD 3,170)(“Claim 3”).

Legal Proceedings:

In December 2016, the Dutch trade union FNV, the Bangladeshi Free Trade Union Congress, the Bangladesh Building and Wood Workers Federation and the Bangladeshi citizen Nadim Shariful Alam filed a lawsuit before a Commercial Court in Zurich.

On 3 January 2017, the court dismissed the lawsuit filed against FIFA. It considered Claims 1 and 2 inadmissible on account of their ambiguity. It found Claim 1 to be vague, because it does not specify the Qatari authorities to which FIFA should turn in order to redress the humanitarian conditions of migrant workers; if Claim 2 were to be admitted, this would essentially make it impossible for FIFA to defend itself. The Court determined that Claim 3 was not under its subject-matter jurisdiction and was therefore precluded from ruling on it. As such, the Court dismissed the plaintiffs' lawsuit in its entirety.

The court pointed out that the plaintiffs' claims, as they were formulated, would not be enforceable, because FIFA is allegedly not in a position to force Qatar to amend its widely criticised labour laws.

News items:

- Swiss court rejects lawsuit against FIFA over Qatar World Cup, 2017, Market Plus (Switzerland)
- Swiss Court rejects lawsuit against FIFA over Qatar World Cup, 6 Jan 2017, Deutsche Welle, (Germany)
- Asser International Sports Law Blog, 2017 (The Netherlands)
- Fifa faces legal challenge over Qatar migrant workers, 10 Oct 2016, Owen Gibson, Guardian (UK)

FIFA:

- Swiss court rejects labour unions’ claim against FIFA concerning Qatar 2022, 6 Jan 2017

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Article
+ Français - Hide

« La justice suisse rejette une plainte contre la FIFA », 6 janvier 2017

Le tribunal du commerce du canton de Zurich n'entre pas en matière sur la plainte de trois syndicats contre la FIFA. Ils avaient critiqué l'organisation de football pour les conditions de travail des ouvriers émigrés travaillant au Qatar pour la coupe du monde 2022.

La FIFA salue la décision du tribunal…Elle prend très au sérieux les conditions de travail et le respect des droits humains dans le cadre de la coupe du monde 2022.

…Elle va continuer de s'engager auprès des autorités qataries pour que celles-ci assurent des conditions de travail décentes et sûres aux travailleurs…

Deux syndicats du Bangladesh et un des Pays-Bas ont reproché à la FIFA dans leur plainte que l'association de football n'en faisait pas assez pour améliorer les conditions de travail des travailleurs émigrés construisant des stades, des routes et des hôtels au Qatar…

Le tribunal de commerce a jugé que la plainte était irrecevable pour des raisons formelles…

…Un recours peut être déposé auprès du Tribunal fédéral.

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Article
7 January 2017

Swiss court rules in FIFA's favor over Qatar labor lawsuit

Author: Shabina S. Khatri, Doha News (Qatar)

A commercial court in Zurich has rejected a lawsuit against FIFA that accused the body of failing to project migrant workers in Qatar.

The legal action was filed against FIFA last month by Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV)…

FNV asked the court to rule against FIFA for selecting Qatar as 2022 World Cup host before first demanding assurances about “fundamental human and labor rights of migrant construction workers, including the abolition of the kafala system.”

The union, which represents 1.1 million workers in the Netherlands and overseas, filed the lawsuit on behalf of a Bangladeshi man who worked in Qatar.

He was fired before the end of his contract and ended up in debt in his home country due to recruitment fees…

…[A] victory could have encouraged hundreds of thousands of other blue-collar workers to file legal claims against FIFA.

FIFA hailed the Swiss court’s decision, saying it takes working conditions and human rights issues in Qatar “very seriously.”…

…“We regret this decision very much, because it leaves migrant workers out in the cold,” [declared FNV]…

 

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Article
6 January 2017

Swiss court rejects labour unions’ claim against FIFA concerning Qatar 2022

Author: FIFA

FIFA welcomes the decision of the Commercial Court of Zurich to reject a claim lodged by the Dutch trade union FNV, the Bangladeshi Free Trade Union Congress, the Bangladesh Building and Wood Workers Federation and the Bangladeshi citizen Nadim Shariful Alam concerning FIFA’s alleged wrongful conduct and liability for human rights violations in connection with the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

… FIFA monitors the situation very closely and, as recently stated by President Infantino, will continue to urge the Qatari authorities to ensure safe and decent working conditions for construction workers.

In recent years, a series of processes has been developed to identify and address human rights risks linked to the 2022 event…

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Author: RTS Info (Suisse)

« Plainte contre la FIFA au sujet de la situation des ouvriers de Qatar 2022 », 9 décembre 2016

La FIFA est poursuivie en justice par des syndicats néerlandais et bangladais. En cause, les conditions de travail déplorables des ouvriers travaillant sur les chantiers du Mondial 2022 au Qatar...

...Les ONG dénoncent une situation assimilable à de l'"esclavage moderne"...

...La FIFA...fait valoir qu'elle travaille en étroite collaboration avec les organisateurs de Qatar 2022 qui ont mis en place des normes. Elle estime qu'on ne peut pas la tenir pour responsable de tous les problèmes...

...C’est la première fois qu’une organisation enregistrée en Suisse est poursuivie devant un tribunal local pour violations des droits de l’homme à l’étranger...

...[L]e dossier comporte des "difficultés importantes", la question centrale consistant à savoir dans quelle mesure la FIFA peut être tenue pour responsable des agissements d'employeurs qataris... 

..."[E]n tant que propriétaire de la Coupe du Monde, la FIFA a un pouvoir de décision déterminant"...

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Article
8 December 2016

Netherlands Trade Union Confederation sues Fifa over alleged complicity in the mistreatment of migrant workers in Qatar

Author: The Guardian

A legal action against Fifa over its alleged complicity in the mistreatment of migrant workers in Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup has been filed with a Swiss court. The Netherlands Trade Union Confederation confirmed on Thursday that Fifa has been “summoned to appear in the commercial court in Zürich” in a case it has brought against the world governing body on behalf of the Bangladeshi migrant worker, Nadim Sharaful Alam. The Confederation also confirmed that the Bangladesh Free Trade Union Congress (BFTUC) and the Bangladesh Building and Wood Workers Federation (BBWWF) are also supporting the action. “The Swiss court is asked to rule that Fifa acted wrongfully by selecting Qatar for the World Cup 2022 without demanding the assurance that Qatar observes fundamental human and labour rights of migrant construction workers, including the abolition of the Kafala system,” read a statement from the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV)...Four months earlier, Federico Addiechi, Fifa’s head of sustainability, also released a statement in response to a critical report from Amnesty International in which he insisted the governing body “is fully committed to do its utmost to ensure that human rights are respected on all Fifa World Cup sites and operations and services directly related to the Fifa World Cup”...

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Article
10 October 2016

Fifa threatened with lawsuit in Swiss courts for complicity in mistreatment of migrant workers in Qatar

Author: Owen Gibson, Guardian (UK)

"Fifa faces legal challenge over Qatar migrant workers", 10 Oct 2016

Fifa is facing legal action in the Swiss courts over its alleged complicity in the mistreatment of migrant workers in Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup...Since Fifa voted in December 2010 to hold the World Cup in the tiny Gulf state, Qatar has faced intense criticism over the plight of an army of migrant workers...[T]he legal challenge, brought by the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV) on behalf of a Bangladeshi migrant worker called Nadim Sharaful Alam, is the first time that Fifa has been made directly accountable in the Swiss courts.  In a letter sent to world football’s governing body...lawyers acting for FNV and Alam have given Fifa’s new president, Gianni Infantino, three weeks to accept its complicity and pay damages before going to court...[I]f the action is successful it could open the door for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers to make similar claims...[C]ritics including major NGOs and trade unions have argued that Fifa should do more to use its influence to push for improvement for workers on related infrastructure projects and for wider changes to the kafala system that has been compared to a form of modern slavery...Under the heading “wrongful acts committed by Fifa”, the summary of the writ says that “Swiss law, but also Qatari law and international law oblige Fifa to respect fundamental human rights and refrain from wrongdoing”...

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