All eyes are on Qatar – and that’s a good thing

Melanie Hargreaves Media and PR Manager, The Freedom Fund 15th November 2022

Migrant workers at World Cup stadium sites in Qatar have faced discrimination and exploitation. Image: Equidem

The decision to award the World Cup to Qatar has been widely condemned. Even Sepp Blatter, the former President of FIFA, has admitted that it was a mistake. However, it offers a unique opportunity for the world’s media to draw attention to the all-important issue of migrant workers’ rights, says Melanie Hargreaves from the Freedom Fund. 

With the World Cup furore gaining momentum, all eyes are firmly on Qatar – and not necessarily for the right reasons.

Past tournaments have had their fair share of media scrutiny – South Africa, Brazil, Russia to name a few. Yet, Qatar’s record of conservative views and harsh, discriminatory treatment of migrant workers – including those working in construction – had led to numerous global media outlets to publish scathing critiques of FIFA’s involvement with the Gulf state.

Even before the first game has kicked off, this year’s Cup is already facing huge media criticism, alongside support from leaders in world football, in response to Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers – despite the nation’s strict regulations for journalists.

The cover of Time magazine currently reads “The Dangerous Game”, with an investigative feature exposing the experiences of migrant workers who built the country’s new football stadiums, a job that carries a $200 billion bill, according to the article. With accounts from workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh of working long hours in unbearable heat, having little water to drink, wages often retained and passports confiscated, it is sadly too little too late for many.

The media is refusing to ‘focus on the football’

Despite FIFA demanding that competing nations ‘focus on football’ in Qatar, the media is playing to its strength, and certainly has a different agenda. It seems strict reporting restrictions have not waned journalism’s search for the truth.

Indeed, Time magazine is not the only publication to publish such exposes into the reality in Qatar. “Far from the glitz of Qatar a migrant worker’s family grieves’, reported Sky News last month, in its investigation into the death of an Indian construction worker whose family received no compensation for his death.  French national channel, France 24 has run a series of reports into the issue, its latest documenting Qatar’s rejection of a compensation fund for World Cup migrant workers. Even Qatar-based Aljazeera reported the difficulties for migrant workers – albeit with a particularly reserved tone – detailing workers’ struggles, alongside the action taken by the Qatar authorities to tackle the situation.

The Freedom Fund has been working with allies within the modern slavery sector to find out more about the risks facing migrant workers, their experiences in destination countries, and how to improve protection for them – especially domestic workers employed in private homes.

With our own focus on Ethiopian workers migrating to the Gulf, we know that large numbers continue to make the journey, choices influenced by an uncertain labour market at home, food insecurity and worsening economic conditions compounded by conflict and insecurity.

Migrant workers are unaware of their rights

As highlighted in our recent Meneshachin report, workers from rural areas, often with limited knowledge and misguided information of  the country they are going to or the job they will do, with the wrong visa – through no fault of their own – and unaware of their rights or how to seek help if they need it, find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous recruiters before and when arriving in foreign countries – like Qatar. This makes them highly vulnerable, at risk of trafficking and without support when abuses occur.

Alongside ally organisations like, we recommend practical actions that could make a difference to the lives of migrant workers, including establishing accessible shelters for both male and female migrants – especially those who are victims of labour abuse; ensure workers who have experienced wage theft and other labour abuses are compensated in full and for their hardships; and for absconding laws to be abolished.

Media support is crucial to draw attention to the exploitation of migrant workers

Alongside these strong advocacy asks, this is where media support really comes into play.  With the addition of emotive, first-hand experiences from workers who’ve helped to build the stadiums, the media is a sure-fire way to gain the attention of the public on this important cause.

Our ally, Equidem – an international human rights charity, anchored in the global south that works to expose injustice, provide solutions and build movements – has launched a deep-dive, whistle-blowing report into the exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar and failure of the Qatari government to enforce promised reform as the tournament draws closer.  The report documents significant labour and human rights violations at all eight FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 stadiums.  A press conference – featuring the voices of two former migrant workers telling first-hand accounts of their employers trying to cover up or evade investigations into worker deaths; wage theft; illegal recruitment; and forced labour – is a great example of the power of the media in getting the message out.

With support from outlets ranging from Rolling Stone, the Associated Press, ITV and the Washington Post to the Daily Mail and Middle East Eye, as well as podcasts with VOX and Football Ramble, Equidem is calling on Qatar to enforce international minimum standards for migrant workers in the years following the World Cup and to establish a Migrant Workers’ Centre to protect the rights of migrant workers. Equidem also calls for a remedy fund to compensate migrant workers and their families who experienced injury, death, unfair recruitment and abusive working conditions in the delivery of the World Cup infrastructure.

The media can amplify the voices of those most affected

Mustafa Quadri, Founder and CEO of Equidem, said: “Bringing the marginalised grassroots voices of those most impacted by policies made in remote, glittering offices directly to international media platforms, allows them to speak the truths of their experiences on some of the world’s largest stages, uprooting the establishment and prompting conversations that can catalyse change. The World Cup will be one of the most covered events of this decade and Equidem has played a role in advancing the essential conversation about human rights and labour that is an intrinsic link to mass sporting events.”

But as the world gets caught up in the tournament, this media support must continue to raise awareness of what is happening behind the scenes.  Coverage so far on human rights abuses is encouraging, backed by voices in football taking a stand against FIFA, but it cannot end here.

We hope that, alongside advocacy and programmatic work to support migrant workers from organisations like the Freedom Fund, Migrant Rights and Equidem, the media will continue long beyond World Cup 2022 to put pressure on Qatar and other Gulf nations to improve the working and living conditions of the millions of migrant workers who flock there every year.

Melanie Hargreaves, Media and PR Manager, The Freedom Fund.

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