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HRW slams ‘abuse’ of Russia World Cup workers

Construction site of the Arena Pobeda (Victory Stadium) football stadium in Volgograd, with the statue of Mother Homeland seen in the background © AFP/File / VASILY MAXIMOV

MOSCOW, Russian Federation, Jun 14Human Rights Watch in a report released on Wednesday highlighted exploitation of workers on 2018 World Cup construction sites and accused FIFA and host Russia of taking insufficient action to halt abuse.

The New York-based group accused world football governing body FIFA of failing to effectively monitor labour conditions ahead of the Confederations Cup starting June 17 and the World Cup that kicks off in a year’s time.

“FIFA’s promise to make human rights a centrepiece of its global operations has been put to the test in Russia, and FIFA is coming up short,” Jane Buchanan, associate director of the group’s Europe and Central Asia division, was quoted as saying in a statement.

“Construction workers on World Cup stadiums face exploitation and abuse and FIFA has not yet shown that it can effectively monitor, prevent, and remedy these issues.”

Labourers work inside the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, under re-construction for the 2018 World Cup © AFP/File / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

The report said that workers on World Cup stadium construction sites in six cities had wages unpaid or delayed for months and worked in temperatures as low as -25 degrees Celsius without sufficient breaks to warm up.

It also cited the Building and Woodworkers’ International global union as saying that at least 17 workers have died on World Cup construction sites.

FIFA denied the claims saying in a statement to AFP that it “shares HRW’s objective to ensure decent working conditions on FIFA World Cup stadium construction sites”.

“The overall message of exploitation on the construction sites portrayed by HRW does not correspond with FIFA’s assessment, which is based on the quarterly inspections conducted by independent experts and trade union representatives,” FIFA added.

Human Rights Watch accused the Russian authorities of intimidating its representatives as they attempted to speak to workers, with police detaining one researcher in the southern city of Volgograd.

Workers carry a goal inside Krestovsky football stadium in Saint Petersburg, also known as Zenit Arena, under-construction for the 2018 FIFA World Cup © AFP/File / OLGA MALTSEVA

“The apparent surveillance and detention of a Human Rights Watch researcher and pressure on workers not to report abuses suggests that those responsible for labour conditions on World Cup sites have something to hide,” Buchanan said.

“Football fans, players, coaches and others have a right to know who’s building the World Cup stadiums and under what conditions. Transparency is the key to any serious human rights protection.”

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The report said that last year FIFA announced it was organising a system together with the Russian authorities to monitor labour conditions at stadiums being built or renovated for the 2018 World Cup.

But Human Right Watch accused FIFA of failing to publish “comprehensive details” of the abuses their inspectors found.

“FIFA and the Russian government took a notable step in organizing labour monitoring on World Cup stadiums,” Buchanan said.

“But FIFA needs to make public detailed information about its inspections,” she said.

“There could not be a better time for FIFA to move away from the secrecy that has plagued its operations,” she said, urging it to “show it can achieve meaningful protections for workers and be transparent and accountable.”

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