According to human rights organizations, if Fifa does not take action, there will be more instances of worker fatalities during the next World Cup.

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Human rights groups are cautioning that yet another World Cup will be marred by the fatalities and hardships faced by underpaid employees if Fifa fails to promptly address the issue of Saudi Arabia’s extensive mistreatment of its foreign laborers.

Saudi Arabia is highly likely to be chosen by Fifa to host the World Cup in 2034 as they are the only bidder. However, rights organizations have expressed concerns about the treatment of workers following the previous World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

Minky Worden, the leader of international projects at Human Rights Watch, stated that “Fifa has yet to understand that choosing to host a multi-billion dollar mega-event without proper research or transparency can result in the loss of lives for migrant workers and pose significant threats to human rights.”

The alerts were prompted by a recent investigation by The Guardian, which uncovered a significant number of unexplained deaths among migrant workers from Bangladesh in Saudi Arabia. According to records kept by the Bangladeshi government, at least 13,685 workers died in Saudi Arabia between 2008 and 2022. In 2022 alone, the death toll for Bangladeshis was over 1,500, equating to more than four deaths per day.

The relationship between the mortality rate and the significant number of Bangladeshis migrating to Saudi Arabia, which is estimated to be nearly 500,000 in 2023, is not well understood.

Migrant workers wearing face masks are seen waiting for their air tickets in front of the Saudi Arabian Airlines office in BangladeshView image in fullscreen

The Guardian discovered that in 2022, the majority of deaths among Bangladeshi migrant workers in Saudi Arabia were classified as “natural” by their government. This determination was based on information provided by the Saudi authorities, despite the fact that all migrant workers are required to undergo a medical examination before leaving for the Gulf kingdom. The average age of the deceased was 44 years old.

The Guardian has examined death certificates issued by the Saudi authorities and found that they frequently do not mention the primary cause of death. Human rights organizations argue that this lack of information renders the deaths essentially unexplained. Some experts suggest that the challenging living and working conditions, intense heat, and extreme stress experienced by many workers may play a role in these fatalities.

If FIFA designates Saudi Arabia as the host for the 2034 World Cup, there will likely be a significant rise in the number of Bangladeshi workers being recruited for the event.

Like Qatar, Saudi Arabia is heavily reliant on migrant ­workers, largely from south Asia and parts of Africa, with more than 13 ­million non-Saudi residents, of whom Bangladeshis make up the largest nationa­lity – more than 2 ­million in 2022.

Although Saudi Arabia has made some minor changes to their labor laws in recent times, there is a possibility that the risks for low-wage migrant workers will grow if the country is chosen to host the World Cup.

Fifa received heavy backlash for the mistreatment of low-paid immigrant workers leading up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. There were reports of migrant worker fatalities, forced labor, and unfair working conditions.

Amnesty International’s researcher for migrant labour rights, Ella Knight, has called on the Saudi government to thoroughly investigate all unexplained deaths. This call comes after evidence has emerged linking premature deaths to unsafe working conditions. Knight stressed the importance of preventing a repeat of the situation in Qatar 2022 and the resulting suffering.

Asian workers gather at their accommodation in Qadisiya labour camp, Saudi Arabia

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According to Amnesty International, Fifa should be held accountable for how Saudi Arabia will meet the necessary human rights and labor standards as the host of the tournament. The decision on who will host the tournament will be made this year.

Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s leader of economic and social justice, is calling on Fifa to provide clear guidance for hosts to adhere to its human rights policies. Cockburn also urges Fifa to be willing to suspend the bidding process if significant human rights concerns are not effectively resolved.

The Sports & Rights Alliance stated that FIFA has lost its ability to demand enforceable human rights promises from Saudi Arabia by awarding them the World Cup uncontested.

The Gulf nation declared that it had eliminated the kafala system, which binds workers to their employers. However, Knight insists that Fifa should require reliable assurances that this system has been completely abolished.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development in Saudi Arabia issued a statement detailing the advancements made in workers’ rights in recent years. These include the elimination of the kafala system, implementation of a wage protection system, and efforts to regulate the recruitment of migrant workers.

The statement affirmed our dedication to making continuous advancements in labor practices and our tireless efforts to protect the well-being and rights of all workers in the kingdom.

The statement also claims that they have strong regulations and standards in place to protect workers’ rights and that they thoroughly investigate all workplace incidents. They also state that in cases where deaths occur, they handle them according to international standards and may conduct autopsies if necessary.

“Death certificates are issued transparently, adhering to ­established and regulated protocols. Suggestions of negligence or a lack of transparency in this regard are unfounded.”

Despite making several efforts, Fifa failed to reply to inquiries for a statement.


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