Qatar Criticized in Treatment, Deaths of World Cup Construction Workers

With the 2022 FIFA World Cup soccer final draw set for Friday in Qatar, the country's treatment of workers building the game stadiums and other projects is back in the spotlight.

Since Qatar was chosen to host the World Cup by FIFA's Executive Committee 10 years ago, concerns about workers building the stadiums and whether the country is suitable to host the games have been circulating.

Qatar is building seven new stadiums for the finals, a new airport, new metro and new roads.

Since construction began, more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died, The Guardian reported last year. It questioned the fact that the vast majority had been labeled as "natural deaths" among the migrant workforce of some two million.

According to an in-depth analysis of work-related injuries in Qatar by the International Labour Organization (ILO), 50 migrant workers died, 500 migrants were severely injured and 37,600 suffered mild to moderate injuries in 2020. The top causes of serious injury were falls, traffic accidents and falling objects.

World Cup Worker
As the 2022 FIFA World Cup final draw is set for Friday in Qatar, concerns swirl over the country's treatment of workers building the game stadiums and other projects. Above, flags of nations qualified for the World Cup are pictured in Doha. Getty Images

"The transparency shown in the review of the data collection and analysis processes has allowed us to put forward a set of concrete recommendations that can serve as a road map for action," head of the ILO Project Office in Qatar Max Tuñón said in the report. "We must move with urgency, as behind each statistic there is a worker and their family."

The treatment of workers has attracted major scrutiny from advocacy groups. Human Rights Watch, an organization that conducts research and support for human rights, says migrant workers in Qatar are facing illegal wage deductions and unpaid wages for long work shifts.

The group's report revealed FIFA World Cup 2022 workers in Qatar, between January 2019 and May 2020, "reported some form of wage abuse by their employer such as unpaid overtime, arbitrary deductions, delayed wages, withholding of wages, unpaid wages, or inaccurate wages."

"With the World Cup months away, the excitement for the tournament is palpable, with the Final Draw serving as an important marker," said Germany Director of Human Rights Watch Wenzel Michalski. "It is critically important to ensure that migrant workers who made the tournament possible and were harmed in the process are not forgotten."

In 2017, the Qatar government signed an agreement with ILO, promising to tackle widespread labor exploitation and "align its laws and practices with international labour standards."

In 2020, Qatar made further progress for its migrant workers, including ending the No-Objection Certificate requirement, meaning all workers should now be able to change jobs without their employer's permission. However, the ILO says the Qatar government has been weak in implementing and enforcing some of the reforms that were introduced.

A spokesperson for Qatar's Government Communications Office said in a statement last year that the country's "injury and mortality statistics are in line with international best practice and set new standards for the region."

Newsweek reached out to Qatar officials for comment.