FIFA urged to engage with Qatar's government about impact of kafala system

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As the corruption scandal engulfing FIFA hits the courtrooms, the 2022 World Cup is under the microscope.

On Thursday, FIFA's Human Rights Advisory Board published its first report. In it, the advisory board recommends that FIFA press Qatar's government about the impact of the kafala system on migrant workers involved in construction for the 2022 World Cup.

The kafala system is regarded as modern slavery, requiring migrant workers to obtain the consent of their employers to terminate their employment contracts. The report recommends that "FIFA actively explore ways to use its leverage to engage with the host government about the impact of the kafala system on migrant workers involved in World Cup-related construction."

According to the Guardian's David Conn, the number of workers in Qatar who are brought in from poorer countries - India, Nepal, Bangladesh - and who are employed to build eight stadiums for the 2022 World Cup, is expected to rise from 12,000 to 36,000 over the next year. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, a quasi-governmental committee organising the tournament, told Human Rights Watch that they expect the number of workers on their projects to peak at around 35,000 by late 2018 or early 2019.

In September, Human Rights Watch said that thousands of migrant workers on construction sites in Qatar, including those building stadiums for the 2022 World Cup, are being subjected to "potentially life-threatening heat and humidity." The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy classified eight deaths between October 2015 and July 2017 as "non-work-related," listing seven of them as the result of "cardiac arrest" and "acute respiratory failure." But, as Human Rights Watch pointed out, the terms "obscure the underlying cause of deaths and make it impossible to determine whether they may be related to working conditions, such as heat stress."

The advisory board was created in early 2017 to provide "independent advice" on FIFA's human-rights responsibilities. The expert group is comprised of eight representatives and includes members from the UN System, civil society, trade unions, and FIFA sponsors.

Fatma Samoura, FIFA's general secretary, said: "This report shows that FIFA is making important progress in integrating respect for human rights throughout its wide range of activities. We are taking a pioneering role in that regard and feel privileged to be able to count on the outstanding support of the advisory board members. They validate the important progress that is taking place and challenge us where more is still to be done."

Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who sounded the alarm about dangerous conditions in Qatar and the unexplained death of thousands of workers, sees the report as inadequate. He declared that it was "shocking" that explicit and urgent recommendations weren't made to prevent workers from the dangerous conditions and investigate the unexplained deaths.

The International Trade Union Confederation welcomed a breakthrough to end the kafala system in October, announcing that new guidance and commitments made by Qatar's government will dismantle the system.