News 15 December 2015

FIFA human rights move given cautious welcome

FIFA’s commissioning of an independent report in order to advise it on how to incorporate the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (GPBHR) has been given a cautious welcome by Human Rights Watch. ‘If FIFA carries out those recommendations, it could move the ball down the field for human rights’, wrote Minky Worden, Director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch. ‘But FIFA has commissioned and buried reports before, so whether FIFA is serious is still an open question’.

Yesterday, FIFA announced that Professor John Ruggie of Harvard University would produce a report by March 2016 proposing how FIFA can implement the GPBHR. Ruggie authored the GPBHR during his mandate as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Business and Human Rights from 2005-11. Following a July Executive Committee meeting, FIFA announced that future World Cup bids would have to incorporate the GPBHR, which FIFA said it would recognise.

FIFA’s announcement was careful to emphasise that future World Cup bids would have to incorporate the GPBHR – what is currently unclear is how FIFA’s incorporation of the GPBHR will affect the Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 World Cups. In October, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) dismissed new labour laws passed on 28 October as “sham reforms”, as reported by the Sports Integrity Initiative. Employer approval is still needed for migrant workers to leave the country.

‘Russia’s selection as host of the 2018 World Cup is also a source of concern, in view of the extensive abuse of migrant workers Human Rights Watch documented ahead of the Sochi Olympics, including during construction of Fisht Stadium, a 2018 World Cup venue’, writes Worden. ‘The construction led to forced evictions and affected entire communities, including one village that was deprived of a reliable water supply for more than five years’.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is sending a mission to Qatar to decide whether to launch a Commission of Inquiry into forced labour in the country – a move the ITUC said the Qatar government tried to block. Whether a COI will take place will also be decided – interestingly – in March 2016, when Ruggie’s report is due.

On 1 December, Amnesty International said that Qatar had failed to address five of the nine fundamental migrant labour rights issues identified in a May 2015 report. This included failure to pay wages on time, delays to expansion of the labour force in order to ease pressure on workers and reform of the ‘kafala’ system, which still requires employer consent to change jobs or leave the country.

‘FIFA is in the process of putting in place a human rights due diligence procedure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup’, read a FIFA statement in reply. ‘Currently five stadiums are under various stages of construction in preparation to host matches for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. According to information provided by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy on 4 November 2015, there are approximately 3,694 workers engaged in stadium construction with over 10.4 million hours worked. According to progress reports that have been submitted to FIFA, no fatalities have been reported on any 2022 FIFA World Cup site.’

‘Business enterprises conducting such due diligence should not assume that, by itself, this will automatically and fully absolve them from liability for causing or contributing to human rights abuses’, reads the GPBHR. ‘Corporate directors, officers and employees may be subject to individual liability for acts that amount to gross human rights abuses’.

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