Visa, Coca-Cola Respond To Human Rights Concerns About Qatar World Cup; Not Pulling Out As Sponsors

(Rendering of World Cup venue in Qatar; via FIFA)

(Rendering of World Cup venue in Qatar; via FIFA)

Since the mysterious cabal that is FIFA announced that the 2022 soccer World Cup would be played in Qatar, there have been rumors of graft, concerns about the exceedingly high temperatures, and most importantly multiple reports of human rights abuses at worksites for the new stadiums and other facilities being erected around the country. As more people call on the event’s largest sponsors to pull their support, some are responding, though none are giving any indication that they won’t slap their name on the wildly popular tournament.

In a statement released today, Visa expressed some concerns about the conditions of migrant workers, primarily from Nepal and India in Qatar.

“We continue to be troubled by the reports coming out of Qatar related to the World Cup and migrant worker conditions,” reads the statement. “We have expressed our grave concern to FIFA and urge them to take all necessary actions to work with the appropriate authorities and organizations to remedy this situation and ensure the health and safety of all involved.”

A separate statement from Coca-Cola, perhaps the most high-profile of the event’s sponsors, voices no concern for Qatar-specific issues. Similar to the Visa response, the beverage giant is putting the responsibility for compliance on FIFA.

“The Coca-Cola Company does not condone human rights abuses anywhere in the world,” writes Coca-Cola. “We know FIFA is working with Qatari authorities to address questions regarding specific labor and human rights issues. We expect FIFA to continue taking these matters seriously and to work toward further progress.”

The company says it welcomes “constructive dialogue on human rights issues, and we will continue to work with many individuals, human rights organizations, sports groups, government officials and others to develop solutions and foster greater respect for human rights in sports and elsewhere.”

Human rights concerns are nothing new in Qatar, especially with regard to the treatment of women and migrant laborers. But it wasn’t until recently that many outside the human rights advocacy community took notice.

In 2013, a report in the Guardian thrust the nation into the spotlight with claims that 44 Nepalese migrant workers had died in just a two-month span. Meanwhile, other workers said they were not being paid for months at a time, and some said their identification was being confiscated by their employers.

Later that year, research from Amnesty International [PDF] backed up the news reports, with many of the more than 1 million migrant workers in Qatar experiencing multiple human rights violations: “not being paid for six or nine months; not being able to get out of the country; not having enough – or any – food; and being housed in very poor accommodation with poor sanitation, or no electricity.”

After being kicked into the spotlight, Qatar’s government suddenly took an interest in the conditions of the migrant workforce. Even FIFA President Sepp Blatter publicly condemned the working conditions.

In Feb. 2014, the Qatari government’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy released new Workers Welfare Standards intended to hold contractors responsible “for ensuring that the highest standards of health and safety are upheld on [Supreme Committee] construction sites and in worker accommodation.”

However, follow-up reports still call into question the country’s actual dedication to the treatment of migrant workers.

Amnesty International’s Nov. 2014 report [PDF] on Qatar calls into question the Qatari response to claims of worker abuse, pointing out that the changes the government had promised were not the reality. Additionally, while some contractors were indeed improving living conditions for their workers, there were still claims of passports being confiscated, though the government said this was just for “safekeeping.”

A Dec. 2014 Guardian article figured that Nepalese migrant workers building World Cup infrastructure had been dying at a rate of one every other day. This doesn’t include all the workers in the country who had come from India, Sri Lanka, or Bangladesh for jobs.

While Qatar recently claimed that there have been no reported deaths yet involving the construction of any of the actual World Cup stadia, the group Play Fair Qatar calculates that, by the time things are done, 62 migrant workers may have died for each game played in the 2022 tournament.

Qatar also appears to be trying to exert control over reporters who travel there. Human Rights Watch notes that a German TV journalist and his crew were recently arrested for allegedly lacking filming permits, and then blocked from leaving the country for five days.

“FIFA operates under the Olympic Charter, which mandates media freedom,” writes HRW’s Minky Worden. “If it fails to defend the right of journalists to report on human rights abuses tied to the World Cup, FIFA is dropping the ball. And FIFA’s silence on this case again raises the question as to what exactly President Sepp Blatter means when he calls football a ‘force for good’ around the world.”

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