The mounting human cost of preparing for the Qatar 2022 World Cup | Asia Pacific

The mounting human cost of preparing for the Qatar 2022 World Cup

The mounting human cost of preparing for the Qatar 2022 World Cup

Updated 25 July 2014, 11:47 AEST

International criticism of the treatment of foreign workers in Qatar has prompted the government to announce some improvements.

New rules were issued this week by the Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, aimed at reducing abuses.

Qatar has been steeped in corruption controversies since winning the right to host the 2022 Soccer World Cup.

Added to bribery scandals, the deaths of foreign workers is becoming more than a mere embarrassment for the oil rich nation.

A new investigation contrasts the billions of dollars spent on one of the world's biggest sporting events, with the cost in lives and misery of some of the poorest workers.

Correspondent: Karon Snowdon

Speakers: Matteo Fagotto, freelance investigative journalist

SNOWDON: The first investigation by the Guardian newspaper in September last year revealed the shocking rate of deaths.

Almost one Nepalese worker was dying every day in Qatar-- many of them young men struck down by heart attacks.

Since then little seems to have changed.

The deaths keep happening in a cycle of exploitation that amounts to slavery -- men are being worked to death to build the stadiums and related infrastructure for the World Cup in one of the richest nations.

FAGOTTO: During our investigation in Nepal we found at least two workers, two bodies of dead workers arrive at the Nepali international airport every day.

Freelance investigative journalist Matteo Fagotto who says many of the bodies came from Qatar.

For his report with photographer Matild Gattoni for the Saturday paper in Australia he spoke to families, returning workers and government ministries in Nepal

FAGOTTO: There have been at least 672 workers dead in Qatar in the last five years, and that is a very conservative estimate.

SNOWDON: The International Trade Union Confederation warns as many as 4-thousand labourers could die in Qatar before the World Cup kicks off.

They will die from complications from long hours and hard labour in 55 degree heat, compounded by appalling housing, low or withheld wages, unpayable debts, a callous government and unscrupulous agents.

At the base of the system is kafala, where bosses confiscate passports -- controlling the lives and freedom of movement of workers.

Its unlikely to change while the authorities choose not to link the deaths to the work -- that way insurance or compensation needn't be paid and changes aren't forced on companies.

FAGOTTO: So most of them die because of exhaustion. They go to bed at night and they don't wake up in the morning because they are exhausted because they are working too much. And so most of the deaths are from cardiac arrest or respiratory failure.

SNOWDON; Are the authorities in Qatar showing any interest in dealing with this issue?

FAGOTTO: Not really actually. We tried to speak to the Qatar Embassy in Kathmandu but they never responded to our interview request.

SNOWDON: Poverty and high unemployment drive Nepal's people to leave home. The money they send home from Qatar, Malaysia and India accounts for a quarter of Nepal's GDP.

In recent days the Qatar government has announced some changes -- water breaks in the heat, no work in the hottest part of the day in summer, employers must set up bank accounts for the workers.

But the kafala system hasn't been changed.

On Wednesday FIFA President Sepp Blatter met with the Emir of Qatar for one hour to discuss improving migrant workers' rights.

Matteo Fagotto says FIFA is unlikely to make a difference.

FAGOTTO: Certainly FIFA has tremendous leverage over Qatar and so far it has sent very contradictory messages. Sepp Blatter the FIFA boss has said that the condition of the workers in Qatar is unacceptable but has said its not up to FIFA to resolve this issue but its just up to Qatar and the companies which are employing them. So of course it sends a clear message to Qatar that FIFA will not press Qatar on this issue and Qatar knows it very well.

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