How many migrant workers have died in Qatar? World Cup deaths and what FIFA have said

A look at the allegations of migrant worker deaths in Qatar ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and what has been said in response.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup is just around the corner, and there is no hiding the controversy surroungint his edition of football’s biggest competition.

The awarding of the World Cup to Qatar in 2010 was embroiled in controversy, leading to huge changes at FIFA amid charges of corruption brought largely by USA officials. Since then, concerns have been raised over migrant workers’ rights in Qatar, with allegations of thousands of deaths in relation to the building of World Cup stadiums and infastructure.

Qatar has attempted to counter those claims, but they are not going away, and it’s an issue that will continue to be discussed over the course of the tournement and beyond, however good the entertainment on the pitch turns out to be. Here we run you through all you need to know about the situation:

The allegations

A variety of sources have written about the deaths of migrant workers in Qatar, and according to The Guardian in early 2021, as many as 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the awarding of the World Cup to the middle-eastern nation since 2012.

Tens of thousands of migrant workers have been shipped into Qatar over the last decade, with as much as 90% of the country’s population made up of migrant workers. According to the Qatari government, around 30,000 workers were brought in to help build the new stadiums required for the hosting of this winter’s competition.

As detailed by the Guardian report, the majority of the workers come from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. According to staistics from those countries, 5,927 died in Qatar between 2010 and 2020. Pakistan reported a further 824 deaths of their nationals. It’s detailed that an average of 12 workers from those South Asian countries have died every week since the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar in December 2010.

The death certificates do not specify which projects the workers were working on, but Nick McGeehan, a director at FairSquare Projects, an advocacy group for labour rights in the Gulf, said: “A very significant proportion of the migrant workers who have died since 2011 were only in the country because Qatar won the right to host the World Cup.”

A fresh report from the BBC details how many of the workers died because of poor safety conditions, with the cause of death for many being due to falling from height. In some of the cases, companies blamed the workers, and in the vast majority of cases, the companies involved did not contact families to give any explanation for the deaths or to offer compensation.

Traditionally, workers are approached in their home country by agents. The workers then pay the agents to arrange visas and travel, and the workers are then handed over from company to company, working across different projects, be it for the contruction of stadiums or infastructure. Many of the workers’ families have to save to send them to Qatar, and the workers then send money to help support their families back home.

Disparity in figures

It’s worth noting that The Guardian report more than 6,500 deaths between the time of the World Cup’s award to Qatar and early 2021. Meanwhile, during the same period, Qatar reported 37 work-related deaths in relation to World Cup projects.

Amnesty internation released a statement in late August of 2021, questioning how deaths were reported, saying: “Official Qatari statistics show that over 15,021 non-Qataris – of all ages and occupations – died between 2010 and 2019, but data on cause of death is unreliable, due to the lack of investigations which Amnesty documented. The fact that a high number of deaths are categorized as ‘cardiovascular diseases’ in Qatar’s statistics may be obscuring a high number of deaths that are, in reality, unexplained.” Qatar officials made it clear they ‘reject’ those claims.

Qatar’s response

A Qatar spokesperson has said the following in relation to worker rights: “Injury and mortality statistics are in line with international best practice and set new standards for the region On tackling the effects of heat stress, Qatar has made significant progress. Following a study conducted by research experts FAME Lab and extensive consultations with our international partners, Qatar introduced legislation in June 2021 to further protect workers from the summer heat.

“The new rules expand the hours during which outdoor work is prohibited, introduce annual health checks for all workers, and require work to immediately stop if the wet-bulb globe temperature rises above a temperature recommended by health experts.”

Belgium fans protest for migrant workers’ rights

Another statement added: “The positive impact of labour reforms in Qatar is clear for all to see. Major reforms include a new national minimum wage, the removal of exit permits, the removal of barriers to change jobs, stricter oversight of recruitment, better accommodation, and improved health and safety standards. The reforms have benefited over one million people to date.”

“The vast majority of foreign nationals who live and work in Qatar leave with a positive experience. Many remain in Qatar beyond the duration of their first contract and encourage friends and family to join them for similar opportunities and a better quality of life.

“The reality is that no other country has come so far in such a short amount of time. Following Qatar’s lead, and as a sign of the programme’s wider impact, other countries in the region have now taken steps to introduce their own labour reforms.”

FIFA statement

In response to The Guardian article, FIFA said in 2021: “FIFA, together with its local partners responsible for the preparation and delivery of the FIFA World Cup 2022, is fully committed to safeguarding the rights of workers contributing to the hosting of FIFA events.

“Since 2011, FIFA has been actively engaging with the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) and key stakeholders such as the Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI) with the aim of enhancing the monitoring and enforcement mechanisms regarding labour rights on FIFA World Cup sites. FIFA and the SC not only work to protect construction workers on FIFA World Cup sites but are expanding the systems to cover other workers who become involved in the tournament preparation, such as in the hotel, transportation, logistics or security industries.

“Sadly, since construction began in 2014, the SC has recorded three work-related fatalities on FIFA World Cup sites and 34 non-work-related deaths among FIFA World Cup workers. FIFA and the SC have always maintained transparency around these fatalities with the SC investigating each work-related incident to ensure lessons were learned by the respective companies and with respect to the SC’s oversight mechanisms. With the very stringent health and safety measures on site enforced by the SC, the frequency of accidents on FIFA World Cup construction sites has been low when compared to other major construction projects around the world.”

“At the same time, it remains a challenge to fully safeguard workers from health hazards that may not be directly associated with their work on site. Amongst the far-reaching measures the SC is taking in that respect are comprehensive medical exams conducted on all SC workers, enabling the systematic identification of pre-existing conditions and the development of individual health plans, as well as the assessment and improvement of workers’ diets through collaborations with specialised partners.

“Furthermore, the SC implements and continuously enhances its heat stress mitigation plans, the effectiveness of which has been assessed and demonstrated through a joint study with the ILO and the Ministry of Labour. In addition, the SC has been strengthening the emergency medical response processes, including through an enhanced training programme for medical professionals in accommodations or the introduction of a centralized electronic medical-records management system.”

“The FIFA World Cup 2022 has already now contributed significantly to the transformation of the labour rights situation in Qatar with important legal changes being implemented by the Qatari authorities and the widely-recognised systems implemented by the SC with respect to construction workers on FIFA World Cup sites.”