FIFA says it is “going beyond what any sports federation has done to date” after being given a ‘red card’ for not delivering on human rights commitments in a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The report illustrates how HRW say workers have been exploited during the construction of stadiums for the World Cup in Russia next year.

“FIFA’s promise to make human rights a centrepiece of its global operations has been put to the test in Russia, and FIFA is coming up short,” said Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.

“Construction workers on World Cup stadiums face exploitation and abuse, and FIFA has not yet shown that it can effectively monitor, prevent and remedy these issues.”

The HRW report “Red card: Exploitation of construction workers on World Cup sites in Russia” lists a number of issues including unpaid or delayed wages, poor working conditions and a failure to provide contracts. It also states that the Building and Wood Workers’ International global union say at least 17 workers have died on World Cup stadium sites.

The report follows recent media coverage about North Korean workers living and working in poor conditions at a stadium site in St Petersburg in 2016.

 

Labourers at work on the Zenit Arena, the new stadium in St Petersburg which has been built for the 2018 World Cup. Photograph: Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters

 

FIFA subsequently stated its Decent Work Monitoring System had resolved this particular issue by early this year, and has now launched a staunch defence of the measures it has put in place.

A statement from world football’s governing body read: “FIFA shares Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) objective to ensure decent working conditions on FIFA World Cup stadium construction sites.

“According to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, FIFA has a responsibility to use its leverage to ensure the protection of human rights in stadiums that will be used for the FIFA World Cup.

“Despite the lack of contractual relations with construction companies, FIFA is going beyond what any sports federation has done to date to identify and address issues related to human and labour rights.

“In particular, FIFA has put in place a pioneer monitoring system, to identify issues and take concrete measures to address them. While incompliances with relevant labour standards continue to be found – something to be expected in a project of this scale, the overall message of exploitation on the construction sites portrayed by HRW does not correspond with FIFA’s assessment, which is based on the quarterly inspections conducted by independent experts and trade union representatives.”

As detailed in this recent Children Win article, FIFA is working with the Klinsky Institute of Labour Protection and Working Conditions, which has carried out two-day inspections on a quarterly basis on all 2018 FIFA World Cup stadium construction sites, and that “particularly severe or recurring issues that need to be addressed and resolved” are escalated to “competent Russian authorities, who ultimately have the responsibility to protect human and labour rights on their territory and ensure that construction companies are held accountable.”

FIFA, which published its new human rights policy last week, say this has reduced the number of issues by 72% since the start of the monitoring system in April 2016.

The statement continued: “We consider it our responsibility to act on all credible information available on human rights risks linked to FIFA’s activities, such as the information collected by HRW for their report.

“We will continue to engage with expert organisations such as HRW in the pursuit of our common objective to protect construction workers’ rights.”

HRW say one of the problems is that FIFA “publicised no information about steps taken to protect or assist these (North Korean) workers”, and Marc Joly, Head of Campaign for Terre des Hommes’ Children Win campaign, believes FIFA should become more transparent and accountable around how they are dealing with human rights issues.

He said: “FIFA is communicating about what action they have taken only once negative newspaper reports are out, whereas the information about their actions (in Russia) existed last year with the monitoring reports they already have.”

This corresponds with the HRW report, which “urges FIFA to increase significantly transparency about all aspects of the new labour conditions monitoring programme, in order to ensure credibility, accountability, and meaningful labour rights improvements.”

For media enquiries and interview opportunities, please contact Marc Joly, Terre des Hommes +41 22 593 48 72 marc.joly@terredeshommes.org

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