This piece was written by Jim Murphy MP, Shadow International Development Secretary, and circulated to his mailing list. He has kindly allowed us to reproduce the email here:
The treatment of migrant workers is no longer the ugly secret of the beautiful game – we know the truth and football has to act.
As you know Qatar is to play host to the 2022 football World Cup. Last week I travelled to Qatar with the International TUC as part of a special Sunday Mail investigation into the treatment of migrant workers in the tiny Gulf State. I thought you might be interested in what I and others on the visit learnt.
Qatar is a remarkable country. In many ways it is undergoing enormous and positive change. Situated on the edge of the the Arabian Peninsula and twenty times smaller than Britain this increasingly important regional power is home to the broadcaster Al Jazeera, some of the largest gas reserves on the planet and in 2022 the first ever World Cup to be held in the Middle East. Its capital city of Doha is an architectural oasis of jaw dropping beauty. The sun beats off a kaleidoscope of glass skyscrapers which are the equal of anything that New York has to offer. But in their shadow there is another story. It is one that should be told.
The work on the World Cup stadiums has just started. But already taking shape are the new roads, railways and and hotels that will help make the tournament possible. An already huge international migrant worker population has been added to by another influx coming to build the World Cup and Qatar of the future. Hundreds of thousands of them live in workers camps. I spent much of last week in Qatar with a Sunday Mail investigation team. What I saw surprised and shocked me. The conditions in these camps are a complete disgrace. No worker should have to live like this. Listening to the workers the first thing I felt was sadness. But with each new story that sadness turned to real anger.
The deception of these workers starts long before they arrive in Qatar. Unscrupulous agents in their home countries fleece them for huge fees and make empty promises about what they can earn in Qatar. They come to the country to earn more than they can at home and send money back to their families. But when they get to Qatar many workers have their passports taken by their employers the moment they arrive at the airport. The message is clear – you’re not leaving without the bosses permission. Too many have their contracts ignored and are paid far less than they were promised. On top of that they can go for years without seeing their families. Lots of workers we met hadn’t been paid a single penny in months. But the awful truth is that they are totally powerless against their employers. The controversial kafala system means that the bosses own their every move. Many are trapped.
These are proud men happy to work hard. But their dignity is being stolen from them by companies who treat them like animals. The men are rightly furious. But all they wanted was justice and the wages they were promised. I met a group of men who pleaded with me to tell them what was going on in the news. They had no access to TV, radio or the internet and had no idea what was happening in the outside world. These men told me that they felt ignorant and cut off. They were astounded and puzzled when I told them about the mystery of the missing Malaysian flight MH370. Ironically they were desperate to know the Champions League football scores. But more than anything else they wanted the world to know about their plight.
As Qatar gears up to 2022 the abuse by the companies has to stop. Football cannot tolerate a World Cup built on the back of workers’ abuse, misery and blood. In my meetings with the people in charge of Qatar 2022 including Hassan Al Thawadi, the head of the Supreme Committee, some big promises of change were made. I was told about new plans on workers’ rights and changes to the kafala system. After this investigation it’s now urgent that they deliver.
The international interest has to be stepped up. FIFA must act and the SFA has to speak out. The silence of footballing authorities is in stark contrast to the loud but dignified pleas for help from the workers. FIFA’s silence seems too much like denial for my liking. If they don’t believe that this abuse is going on there’s a simple way to discover the truth. FIFA and the SFA should follow in the Sunday Mail’s footsteps and visit the camps.
Until recently this has been the ugly secret of the beautiful game. If the abuse continues this will be a World Cup that shames the history and romance of a tournament that has brought us the footballing genius of Puskas, Cruyff and Pele. It’s time to act. We need to protect the game we love. More importantly it’s time to stand up for the workers whose dreams of a better life are being stolen.
You can see the Amnesty International report into migrant workers in Qatar here
And you can read more about the Kafala system here
I love football, and I want football to be better than this. If you want to stand up for the migrant workers in Qatar or if have got any thoughts on how we can build a campaign to force FIFA, email me at email@example.com