Thursday 22 February 2018

Human Rights Watch calls for more protection for 2018 Russian World Cup construction workers

A failure to effectively monitor labour conditions means many workers in the country working on new stadiums face exploitation and abuse, said the organisation

The construction site of Rostov Arena Stadium, a venue for 2018 FIFA World Cup matches.Vladimir Gerdo/TASS (Photo by Vladimir Gerdo\TASS via Getty Images)
The construction site of Rostov Arena Stadium, a venue for 2018 FIFA World Cup matches.Vladimir Gerdo/TASS (Photo by Vladimir Gerdo\TASS via Getty Images)

Independent Sports Staff

Fifa is “coming up short” in its commitment to protect construction workers building stadia for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, according to the Human Rights Watch.

A failure to effectively monitor labour conditions means many workers face exploitation and abuse, said the organisation.

“Fifa's promise to make human rights a centerpiece of its global operations has been put to the test in Russia, and Fifa is coming up short,” said Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Construction workers on World Cup stadiums face exploitation and abuse and Fifa has not yet shown that it can effectively monitor, prevent and remedy these issues.”

Russia will host the Confederations Cup, involving eight teams, starting at the weekend a year ahead of 32 nations arriving to play in 12 grounds in 11 different cities in the World Cup.

According to a 34-page Human Rights Watch report, workers on six World Cup stadium construction sites faced unpaid wages either in full or part, several months' delays in payment of wages, work in temperatures as cold as -25 degrees Celsius without sufficient protections and employers' failure to provide work contracts required for legal employment.

At least 17 workers have died on World Cup stadium sites, according to the Building and Wood Workers' International global union, and workers at several grounds have organised strikes repeatedly to protest non-payment of wages and other labour abuses but many are reportedly afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals from employers.

In May 2016, Fifa announced that for the first time it was organising a system, together with the Russian authorities, to monitor labour conditions at stadiums being built or renovated for the 2018 World Cup.

However, Buchanan claimed this was not delivering on its intended aims.

“Fifa and the Russian government took a notable step in organising labour monitoring on World Cup stadiums, but to be credible, Fifa needs to make public detailed information about its inspections, what inspectors have found, and the actual results, if any, for workers,” added Buchanan.

“There could not be a better time for Fifa to move away from the secrecy that has plagued its operations and to show it can achieve meaningful protections for workers, and be transparent and accountable.”

In response, Fifa said it does not recognise some of the claims being made by Human Rights Watch.

“Despite the lack of contractual relations with construction companies, Fifa is going beyond what any sports federation has done to date to identify and address issues related to human and labour rights,” said a statement.

“While incompliances with relevant labour standards continue to be found - something to be expected in a project of this scale -, the overall message of exploitation on the construction sites portrayed by HRW does not correspond with Fifa's assessment, which is based on the quarterly inspections conducted by independent experts and trade union representatives.”

As part of the monitoring system an independent organisation carries out two-day inspections on a quarterly basis on all stadium construction sites, with international and local trade unions regularly participating.

According to Fifa, 58 inspections have been carried out, averaging a 75 per cent coverage of the workforce employed on the construction sites at the time of the visits.

“Based on the detailed results of consecutive inspections, there is clear evidence that the monitoring system is helping to improve labour standards," added the statement.

“The number of issues found by the experts has been reduced by 72 per cent since the start of the monitoring system in April 2016.

“Fifa regrets HRW chose not to share results of their research with Fifa at an earlier point in time.

“This would have allowed us to use our monitoring system to verify the information, check if these issues have already been detected and resolved through the system, and take adequate measures to address problems when they occur.

“We will continue to engage with expert organisations such as HRW in the pursuit of our common objective to protect construction workers' rights.”

 (© Independent News Service)

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