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FIFA lawsuit (re migrant workers, Qatar)

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.

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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