Qatar 2022: Three Rana Plazas in Slow Motion?

Originally published by the Institute for Human Rights and Business 

14 July 2014 | by Roel Nieuwenkamp and John Ruggie

The government of Qatar has reported a death toll of nearly 1,000 migrant workers recruited to build stadiums for the upcoming tournament

The government of Qatar has reported a death toll of nearly 1,000 migrant workers recruited to build stadiums for the upcoming tournament.

The World Cup has been a beloved tradition since 1930 and every four years it attracts millions of fans from around the world to cheer on their teams. Sadly however, the event is no longer just fun and games. Recently FIFA, the organisation that oversees the World Cup tournament, has been facing severe criticism due to allegations of corruption, financial mismanagement and fiscal waste as well as links to adverse impacts such as community displacement, negative environmental impacts, and deaths due to rapid infrastructure construction related to the large scale events.

Reported developments in Qatar, the host country for the 2022 World Cup, have been shocking. Officials are facing strong allegations of corruption linked to the country’s successful bid for the games. More importantly, the government of Qatar has reported a death toll of nearly 1,000 migrant workers recruited to build stadiums for the upcoming tournament.[1]

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has estimated that if these trends continue, over 4,000 will die before the opening of the games eight years from now.[2] This figure amounts to more than three times the reported death toll of last year’s Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, one of the worst industrial accidents of our time. Despite these serious impacts, and calls from human rights and labour organisations to cease construction of these stadiums and hold the 2022 games elsewhere, preparations in Qatar are continuing.

Governments have a duty to protect against such abuses, and a responsibility to signal that they expect international sports bodies to respect and adhere to international standards on responsible business conduct such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (‘the Guidelines’) as well as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (‘UNGPs’). Under these standards, such organisations are expected to conduct due diligence to avoid causing or contributing to adverse impacts and additionally to work to prevent or mitigate adverse impacts they are linked to through a business relationship. This applies not just to their own activities or first tier investments but throughout their supply chains.

As a multinational enterprise itself, FIFA should apply the OECD Guidelines and UNGPs and conduct due diligence on its operations in order to ensure that it is not contributing to adverse impacts

As a multinational enterprise itself, FIFA should apply the OECD Guidelines and UNGPs and conduct due diligence on its operations in order to ensure that it is not contributing to adverse impacts.

As a multinational enterprise itself, FIFA should apply the OECD Guidelines and UNGPs and conduct due diligence on its operations in order to ensure that it is not contributing to adverse impacts.

First of all, FIFA can be considered to be a multinational enterprise itself.[3] Therefore, it should apply the OECD Guidelines and UNGPs and conduct due diligence on its operations in order to ensure that it is not contributing to adverse impacts. The same should apply for other commercial international sports organisations, such as Formula 1 and so on. FIFA has a Social Responsibility program that promotes community engagement, public health and education through their Football for Hope program.[4] However, beyond such CSR programs, commitments to social responsibility need to be integrated through its core operations, products and services in order to have meaningful influence and to avoid the worst type of impacts.

Secondly, international businesses that are linked to FIFA or the World Cup 2022 should adhere to the OECD Guidelines and UNGPs as well. Some entities with business relationships to FIFA have already been taking an active role in investigating and potentially mitigating some of these adverse impacts. Sony, Adidas and Visa are some of the largest sponsors of the tournament, collectively contributing $180 million to the event. The sponsorship deal of the three enterprises is up for renewal this year and they are applying this leverage to call on the federation’s rules to deal with the allegations of corruption in Qatar’s bid for the games in 2022.[5]

Likewise, two of the largest pension funds in the Netherlands have been in discussion with construction companies Vinci and Hochtief in which they have shareholdings, regarding potential violations of labour standards in work sites related to construction for the World Cup in Qatar. The funds have stated that if they are dissatisfied with the conclusions of their discussions with the construction companies they may be added to ‘’dialogue programmes”, a first step that could result in these funds divesting from the companies.[6] Sony, Adidas, Visa, PME and PMT represent good examples of companies taking action in addressing potential adverse impacts in their supply chains.

Given the track record and increasing public scrutiny around the activities of FIFA it is only a matter of time before complaints involving FIFA and/or related businesses are brought to an OECD National Contact Point—or into a court of law. Rather than waiting to respond to conflicts or addressing adverse impacts after they have occurred, FIFA and related organisations should take a proactive role in preventing such situations in the first place.  Presently, and most urgently, such a response should involve taking action to assure that the cost of upcoming events does not include human lives.


[3] FIFA is incorporated in Switzerland and has a legal form usually applied to non-profit organizations. However, given FIFA’s commercial nature and high profit generation this categorization has been considered to be inappropriate. http://www.baselgovernance.org/fileadmin/FIFA/governing_fifa_mark_pieth.pdf

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