Terre des Hommes has given a cautious welcome to a series of important announcements and decisions relating to world football’s governing body, FIFA, and its responsibilities in the field of human rights and labour standards.
All publicised over the last week, the announcements include:
- An independent Human Rights Advisory Board, created in earlier this year by FIFA following the recommendations of human rights expert John Ruggie, publishing its first report. This includes 33 detailed recommendations by the Board for FIFA to focus on.
- FIFA publishing a guide to the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup, which for the first time includes a series of key requirements for prospective host nations around human rights and labour standards.
- FIFA and FIFPro, the international players’ union, signing a six-year co-operation agreement which is expected to lead to greater protection for the human rights of footballers who have not been paid or have faced abusive behaviour. This remains a serious issue away from the glitz and glamour of football’s richer leagues.
These steps represent “promising developments” according Marc Joly, who leads Terre des Hommes’ ‘Children Win’ campaign which aims to prevent child rights violations around Mega Sporting Events, such as the World Cup and Olympic Games.
He said: “While these announcements by FIFA are at policy level only and there is long way to go before we see their successful and sustained implementation – for example around the bidding guidelines for the 2026 World Cup – they certainly appear to be promising developments.
“We are encouraged by FIFA’s apparent resolve and determination to ensure these processes result in preventative measures or remedial action being taken on the ground in host nations and cities in the future.
“The acid test, of course, will be how these changes translate from paper to reality, and how they affect the bidding and hosting process in real terms. For example, in the next 10 to 20 years, could we really see a nation lose out on the right to host the World Cup finals because of its failure to adhere to human rights standards?“
Joly added: “With regards to the recommendations of the Advisory Board, they are wide-ranging and comprehensive, from asking that FIFA and its partners effectively identify and evaluate human rights risks, through to addressing these issues, tracking and reporting on implementation, and enabling and ensuring access to remedy.
“These observations and recommendations have already been taken on board by FIFA, and we look forward to further updates and reports on their implementation, or otherwise.”
FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura said the governing body felt “privileged to be able to count on the outstanding support of the Advisory Board members”. The Human Rights Advisory Board consists of eight representatives from the UN System, civil society (including Terre des Hommes) trade unions and FIFA sponsors. Fatma Samoura said: “They validate the important progress that is taking place and challenge us where more is still to be done”.
A statement from the Human Rights Advisory Board read: “Our first report sets a baseline: it evaluates FIFA’s human rights progress to date and outlines where FIFA needs to focus in its efforts to prevent and address risks to people connected to its operations. We recognize that FIFA has taken important steps, particularly by adopting a new Human Rights Policy, fighting discrimination connected to matches and integrating human rights requirements into the 2026 FIFA World Cup bidding documents.”
“We also make 33 detailed recommendations on issues FIFA should focus on, including, as a priority, building on what has been done to date by continuing to strengthen efforts to address risks to workers’ rights on FIFA World Cup stadia construction sites in Russia and Qatar.”
In the second part of the report, FIFA provides an update on its work on the priority areas identified by the Board. Key milestones highlighted in the report include the adoption of FIFA’s Human Rights Policy in May 2017, and the strengthening of the mechanisms in place to address human rights risks to workers employed on FIFA World Cup construction sites in Russia and Qatar.
Meanwhile the bidding guidelines for the 2026 World Cup finals require that prospective host nations must provide “specific commitments and information on human rights and labour standards”.
These include making an explicit public commitment to respect internationally-recognised standards in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; a proposed strategy on how to identify and address risks to human rights, with independent expert assessment and mechanisms to address the issues or provide ‘access to remedy’; plus a guarantee of compliance with international standards from the government and host cities.
Qatar and workers rights
The International Organization for Labour (ILO) has ended a potential investigation of Qatar after the 2022 World Cup hosts pledged to protect the rights of migrant workers. The UN agency said reforms agreed by the Qatari government meant some two million workers would now be better protected, including with a minimum wage and being able to leave the country without their employers’ permission. The complaint was lodged in 2014 with the ILO, accusing Qatar of failing to comply with its obligations as a signatory to conventions on forced labour and labour inspections.
Qatar has now committed to dismantling the so-called ‘kafala’ system by ensuring employee contracts are lodged with a government authority to prevent their substitution, and no longer allowing employers to stop workers leaving the country.
In its first report published this week, FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board has also encouraged the governing body to “actively explore ways to use its leverage to engage with the host government about the impact of the kafala system on migrant workers involved in World Cup construction”.