Amid intense criticism, the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, has promised to set up a panel to ensure “decent working conditions” for labourers building the stadiums that will host the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Following reports by human rights groups and a series of Guardian investigations into the plight of migrant workers in the Gulf state, criticism over inaction by the authorities has grown.
On his first visit to Qatar since he was elected in February Infantino announced the new panel, which will include “relevant sectors of civil society and other relevant Fifa stakeholders”.
While the committee organising the World Cup has introduced new labour standards for its contractors, there is concern not enough is being done to tackle the problems caused by the kafala system that bonds workers to their employers.
The Harvard professor John Ruggie, who last week published a wide ranging independent report into Fifa’s human rights responsibilities and made 25 recommendations, has said Fifa would have “tough decisions” to take if Qatar did not prove to UN inspectors it was making progress on the issue within 12 months.
“We take our responsibility seriously and are committed to playing our part,” said Infantino, who had previously reassured the Qataris there was no prospect of the tournament being moved.
Infantino visited the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha and workers’ accommodation during the two-day trip and met the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and the prime minister, Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani. “Fifa and I will take the Qatari authorities at their word and I look forward to the concrete actions which will be the real testament of will,” Infantino said.
“We had a very open and positive discussion on the 2022 Fifa World Cup and a wide range of topics. I told the prime minister the measures taken so far by the supreme committee for delivery and legacy to ensure fair working conditions on Fifa World Cup construction sites are going in the right direction,” he added.
“I made it very clear it is essential for the Qatari authorities to ensure the country complies to international standards on the treatment of workforce and to continue at full pace with the implementation of the promised measures. The hosting of the World Cup is an opportunity to set a benchmark in terms of sustainable and fair conditions for all workers in Qatar.”.
The head of the Qatar 2022 organising committee, Hassan al-Thawadi, said preparations for the controversial first World Cup in the Middle East were “on the right track”.
“Qatar will be ready and will meet all Fifa’s requirements in terms of stadiums and infrastructure well in advance of the tournament,” he said. “Crucially, we are also firmly committed to leaving a lasting social legacy after the tournament – including in the area of workers’ welfare, where we continue to make progress.”
An Amnesty report published last month found mistreatment of workers labouring on the Khalifa International Stadium but the organising committee argued the problems had been dealt with by the time the report was published.
There are also concerns that while improvements have been made to the conditions for workers, progress on new laws remains slow and the fate of those building the wider infrastructure remains at risk.
Amnesty gave Infantino’s comments a cautious welcome, saying they represented a step in the right direction. “Finally it appears Fifa is waking up to the fact that unless it takes concrete action, the Qatar 2022 World Cup will be built on the blood, sweat and tears of migrant workers,” said Amnesty International’s Gulf Migrants Rights researcher Mustafa Qadri.
“The announcement of an oversight body and Infantino’s admission that Fifa must take human rights seriously are welcome steps in the right direction. Amnesty has already exposed human rights abuses on the Khalifa stadium and the surrounding Aspire Green Zone which need addressing right now. These cases also demonstrate the need to ensure Fifa’s human rights monitoring is not limited just to stadiums but includes all other activities linked to the tournament.”