Since 2010, Qatar has been preparing for the World Cup. For the past decade, the government has been rapidly developing its infrastructure. Qatar has recruited migrant workers to build these stadiums and hotels through the Kafala system and recruitment organizations in migrant host countries. Kafala is a system where migrants can come to a country under the supervision of a sponsor. Even though the evolution of the Kafala system is disputed, generally dominant narratives fail to acknowledge how the legacy of British colonialism marginalizes migrants and necessitates a strong dependence on migrant labor. Under Kafala states reassign control over a migrant’s status to the individual or company employing them. Unfortunately, lacking legal protection allows for a high degree of exploitation by public private Qatari companies, as well as private citizens employing migrant workers in their homes.
Dangerous working conditions often lead to traumatic and even deadly circumstances for migrants. Many migrant workers toiled under extreme heat for over eighteen hours a day preparing for the 2022 World Cup. According to The International Labor Organization, 50 workers lost their lives in 2020 and just over 500 were severely injured, with 37,600 suffering mild to moderate injuries. Furthermore, the industries are highly segmented by gender. While male migrants work typically in manual labor or construction, female migrants work in hospitality and as domestic workers. This labor market segmentation in industry has exacerbated existing labor rights issues. Female migrants have been the target of horrific physical and sexual abuse. Human Rights Watch has documented stories of migrants working under these obscene conditions.
Reina, a 45-year-old migrant, describes how long hours have put her safety at risk.
“I went to sleep at 1am, and at 3am the 17-year-old daughter woke me up asking me to go and buy her a Red Bull. Then at 5.30am I started my usual working day, washing the car and preparing to drive the kids to school… at 10pm I crashed the car into the wall.”
Another woman, Joy, reports physical abuse from employers.
“My employer started spitting on us and slapped me again… before this incident she also kicked me on my back.”
In addition, many women have reported being sexually harassed and assaulted by their employers. Female migrants are often manipulated by sponsors into human trafficking. They are promised to work in a bar or nightclub only to get kidnapped and sold into labor or sex slavery.
Migrants are generally afraid to speak up because they fear retaliation. According to The Guardian, one man describes it as being watched. To make matters worse, hope for a better future for migrants and their families is fleeting when they return home without the income they were promised. Human Rights Watch shares the story of a worker who didn’t receive the wages they migrated for:
“When surviving in Qatar became unaffordable despite charity support for food, we decided to return. I was gutted on the flight back. Homecoming is usually a happy occasion when we bring back gifts for families. I was instead returning empty-handed without any savings on a ticket purchased by my family with borrowed money.”
While The U.S. government has not explicitly condemned Qatar’s World Cup, U.S. soccer players took steps to advocate for workers’ rights. According to The Athletic, in 2019, soccer players met with the International Labor Organization, Amnesty International, The Center for Sport and Human Rights, and the Qatari government’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy. American soccer players and officials were determined to ensure that vendors helping the team were complying with worker rights. Moreover, the U.S. The Soccer Team signed the Union of European Football Associations or UEFA’s World Cup Working Group in supporting workers with compensation at the World Cup. Despite some advocacy for workers, the U.S. government did not take steps to protest the game. In fact, an American delegation went to The World Cup to cheer on the players.
Even though countries have not protested the games, people resisted The World Cup through individual actions. According to the BBC, Paris and some surrounding French cities did not set up fan zones for the event. Euronews reports Brussels bar owners joined the boycott and refused to show the games out of political, ethical, and social concerns. The lack of action from governments is concerning, but civil society and individuals still found creative ways to protest these human rights abuses from Qatar.
Businesses, especially sports bars and restaurants, protested the games by not showing the games. Individuals took a stand by not watching the games and encouraged others to boycott the games. By spreading information about the human rights atrocities involved in this World Cup, people amplified voices to speak out against the World Cup. This was done by simply sharing a news story or infographic on social media or by talking about the Kafala system with family and friends. People and organizations also raised up late migrant workers’ stories to honor their lives and raise awareness of the human impact of exploitation. Honoring victims looked like displaying a portrait of a late migrant, buying a bumper sticker in support of migrants, writing a blog about a migrant's story or sharing an NGO's infographic on social media. Spreading awareness with information, resources, and resistance, we as individuals and civil society can stand up to exploitation and fight for better working conditions.