LONDON - Human rights group Amnesty International says the corruption crisis in football’s world governing body, FIFA, is drawing attention away from abuses of migrant workers helping to construct venues for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Amnesty says in recent months, Qatar has made some progress in improving the rights of migrant workers. Under the so-called new Wage Protection System, big companies must now regularly pay their employees by electronic bank transfer – helping to address problems over late or missing wages.
But Amnesty’s Mustafa Qadri says there are still holes in the legislation.
“Workers that are most exposed to abuse in Qatar are those employed in the smallest companies. And they might have a three-month visa, they may be informally employed," he said. "They’re very hard to track, these small companies. This law does not seem to effectively apply to that pool of workers.”
There are around 1.5 million migrant workers in Qatar. Most are employed under the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system – where the employer is responsible for their legal status. Amnesty says this led to major abuses – including the confiscation of employees’ passports.
“An employer has the power to control where a worker goes, when they leave the country, whether they can change jobs. And that creates an incredibly power imbalance,” Qadri said.
Qadri accuses FIFA – football’s world governing body and the organizer of the World Cup – of abdicating its responsibilities.
“We do have a concern that the focus on the corruption allegations and FIFA’s leadership is diverting attention away from human rights and FIFA’s responsibility with respect to human rights,” he said.
Qatar has strongly denied claims that its officials paid FIFA delegates to win their votes to host the 2022 World Cup – and FIFA’s ethics committee ruled in November that any breaches of the rules were only of ‘very limited scope’.
Swiss police are investigating corruption claims against suspended FIFA head Sepp Blatter, while scores of FIFA officials have been indicted in an ongoing U.S. investigation.
Speaking in London Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch urged wholesale reform.
“It’s incumbent on every country that participates in this great sport to be involved in FIFA’s reform,” she said.
Jose Luis Meiszner, the former general secretary of South American soccer's governing body, appeared this week before an Argentine judge who will decide on an extradition request from the United States.