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PACE hearing on workers’ rights in Qatar on the eve of the World Cup: positive change but work still to do

Lord Foulkes moderating a public hearing on workers' rights in Qatar, on the eve of the 2022 World Cup, 13.10.22

Participants at a PACE public hearing on workers’ rights in Qatar, held just a month before the 2022 World Cup kicks off, have agreed that reforms introduced as a result of the tournament have resulted in significant improvements for workers in the country – but that much more needs to be done.

The hearing – organised jointly by PACE’s Culture and Social Affairs Committees – comes after a January 2022 resolution of the Assembly which set out a series of wide-ranging recommendations for placing human rights at the heart of world football, including that bidders for major sporting events should be expected to meet basic human rights standards.

Lord George Foulkes (United Kingdom, SOC), the rapporteur on the topic, introduced the hearing by recalling the thousands of work-related injuries and accidents that had occurred in Qatar since it was awarded the Cup. There had been "genuine advances", but the situation remained worrying, he said.

Mahmoud Qutub, a senior advisor to Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, speaking by video from Doha, said labour rights in Qatar had changed significantly for the better, but they now needed “consistent and diligent enforcement”. He pointed to new ethical recruitment procedures, workers’ access to remedies, and steps to improve health and safety, including health screening for all workers and revolutionary “cooling suits”. “Challenges remain – but there is no finish line to this work,” he underlined.

Alasdair Bell, Deputy Secretary General of FIFA, said the tournament was “the first big sporting event in history to leave a lasting positive legacy in terms of human rights and labour rights”. There had been “real, tangible progress, affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people”. While the World Cup had been a catalyst for change, it was important that these changes remained “after the spotlight has been turned off”.

Lise Klaveness, President of the Norwegian Football Federation, said the decision to award the Cup to Qatar had been done “in an unacceptable way, with unacceptable consequences”, but that there had been steps in the right direction since then. She evoked “the elephants in the room”, issues that had not seen much discussion, such as the lack of investigations into unexplained deaths, and what she called the “haunting” of gay people in Qatar, where same-sex relations are criminalised. Safety for LGBTQI+ people should be a “non-negotiable requirement” for all Cup bidders, she said.

Max Tunon, the head of the International Labour Organization (ILO) office in Doha, also speaking remotely, said there had indeed been significant progress, but there was “still a lot of work to do”. He pointed to new labour rights laws, labour courts, a workers’ fund which was paying out compensation, elected migrant worker representatives, and dialogue with human rights bodies. These changes were not just “on paper”, he said, but there were still gaps in compliance.

Dietmar Schäfers of Building and Wood Workers' International (BWI), a global trades union federation, outlined the work his organisation had been doing since 2013 with the Qatari tournament organisers. Inspections of World Cup sites, for example, had been done in “an exemplary fashion”, but this did not apply to other sites unrelated to the tournament. “Is there a trickle down effect in the rest of the country? To some extent, yes.”

Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, said transparency and openness was essential for all countries hosting major sporting events. While Qatar had made important advances in labour rights, the situation of workers remained worrying. Compliance with international standards should be “a prerequisite for being a credible candidate, and not a target to reach” after being awarded a tournament, he pointed out. The Council of Europe’s vision was one where human rights and good governance were fully embedded in sport.