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Red Card for Qatar: Amnesty International’s Scathing Report on World Cup Construction Labor Abuse

Every laborer interviewed by the organization said they had suffered some form of abuse

A new Amnesty International report about migrant labor abuses occurring during World Cup Stadium construction in Qatar doesn’t pull any punches. Titled "The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game: Labour Exploitation on a Qatar 2022 World Cup Site," the in-depth report, based on interviews with workers at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, claims systematic abuse, in some cases forced labor, is rampant. According to the summary, ever single construction worker and gardener interviewed by Amnesty International reported abuses of some kind.

"The abuse of migrant workers is a stain on the conscience of world football. For players and fans, a World Cup stadium is a place of dreams. For some of the workers who spoke to us, it can feel like a living nightmare," said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty.

Workers, mostly from Bangladesh, India and Nepal, spoke to representatives of Amnesty International between February and May 2015. The 234 interviewed painted a picture of squalid camps, low pay, and what amounted to forced labor, where workers pay for the privilege of working in the Emirates, and find themselves little more the indentured servants, working to pay off their debt.

Qatari officials deny abuses are taking place at this scale. In a statement sent to CNN, the kingdom's Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, which is overseeing the project, stated the following:

"We have always maintained this World Cup will act as a catalyst for change -- it will not be built on the back of exploited workers. We wholly reject any notion that Qatar is unfit to host the World Cup.

"Amnesty International's investigation was limited to just four companies out of more than 40 currently engaged on Khalifa International Stadium. The conditions reported were not representative of the entire work force on Khalifa.

"Many of the issues raised had been addressed by June of 2015, months before the publication of Amnesty's report."

Qatar's World Cup-related infrastructure spending—a reported $200 billion, which includes nine air-conditioned stadiums and major upgrades for three venues, including Khalifa—would be the most in the history of the tournament, considered the world's most-watched sporting event.

According to other organizations and previous reports, labor abuse in the region doesn't appear to be confined to stadium construction; both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have also raise alarms and issued reports about similar abuses occurring amid the construction of new cultural centers in the region, including the Frank Gehry designed-Guggenheim, Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre, and Rafael Viñoly-designed NYU campus.

The heart of the problem in Qatar, according to the recent Amnesty report, is the "kafala" sponsorship program, which binds migrant workers to their employers, who must give them permission to leave their jobs or leave the country. Amnesty said that much-touted reforms in 2015 didn't do enough to alter the balance of power between workers and employers; the report noted instances where Nepali workers weren't allowed to return home to see loved ones after the devastating earthquake that hit their country last spring.

According to CNN, FIFA, which recently underwent a leadership change after a highly publicized corruption scandal, claims it has been addressing the issue, meeting with Qatari leaders and making labor rights part of its future site bid process. But Amnesty claims not enough has been done, and plans to lobby companies such as Coca-Cola, Adidas and McDonald's to pressure FIFA to change its ways.

According to the report, the situation may only get worse, as the run-up to the World Cup will see the number of workers on site increase tenfold, to roughly 36,000 in the next two years.