Everything about the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is terrible. This is accepted among reasonable people. Unfortunately, it’s also accepted that as fans, there’s very little we can do about it, especially since we all know that we’ll be right in front of our televisions seven years from now, rooting our teams along, as if the stories of corruption and death were just some bad dream. It sucks, but it’s reality.
What makes the Qatari conundrum occasionally less insufferable is the idea that someone, somewhere may actually face punishment for the awful conditions that would make us even consider not watching a World Cup.
A few days after tournament organizers unveiled plans for a new, luxuriously air-conditioned Al Rayyan Stadium, French construction company Vinci and its Qatari subsidiary QDVC are being investigated for claims of “forced labor.” “servitude” and “concealment.” Put plainly, the French government believes it has enough information to pursue an investigation into whether the new World Cup facilities are being built by slaves.
The call for a deeper investigation was sparked by a March 23 complaint filed in Paris by non-government organization Sherpa.
“Modern slavery does not consist of shackling and whipping workers. It is subtler: the penal code defines a vulnerable population, under the threat of an employer and extreme economical dependency, as having no choice but to accept the deplorable working conditions and therefore renew its contract.”
Sherpa asserts that Vinci is guilty confiscating the passports of its largely foreign workforce, providing living and working conditions well below the legal standard, and making threats to workers who sought improvements to their low salaries or attempted to get out of their contracts early.
” Vinci claims to have stopped confiscating passports from January 2015 and that it improved its employees’ working conditions. Thus, the multinational has not only admitted that confiscating passports is a serious matter, but that it also committed the act for years, in violation of Qatari law and international standards. Vinci boasts that it improved the housing conditions of 2000 workers in January 2015. But the question remains: what about the the rest of the 3, 200 employees Vinci declared? The question also remains: what the subcontractors Vinci claims to have control over, which according to Qatari law and ethical commitments, must provide the same working and accommodation conditions that direct employees are provided?
Vinci asserts that 70% of its employees renew their contracts after the initial one expires. Yet their statement solely concerns 70% of their direct employees, and therefore does not take into account all of the subcontractors who represent the majority of the workforce. Furthermore, the Bangladeshis we met told us that they became hostages because, if they lost a day of work, they were unable to feed their families.”
Vinci has refuted Sherpa’s claims, and has responded by filing a defamation lawsuit. The company insists that it is not merely interested is meeting the legal standard for worker conditions but strives to go beyond them. It’s denying any claim that passports are confiscated and say that 70 percent of workers have voluntarily opted to extend their original contracts.
The French investigation launched about two weeks ago.