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FIFA, trade unions to work on Qatar labor issues

November 20, 2013

ZURICH (AP) — Pressure on Qatar to improve the labor conditions for migrant workers building 2022 World Cup projects increased on Wednesday with FIFA president Sepp Blatter describing the situation as unacceptable.

FIFA issued a statement after Blatter met International Trade Union Confederation president Michael Sommer and agreed that “fair working conditions must be introduced quickly, consistently and on a sustained basis in Qatar.”

Qatar has been criticized in reports by the United Nations and Amnesty International over pay, labor and housing conditions for workers brought mostly from south Asia.

“Economic and political leaders must contribute to improving the unacceptable situation in Qatar,” said Blatter, who met this month with the Emir of Qatar and other government officials in Doha. “I am convinced that Qatar is taking the situation very seriously.”

FIFA has previously been tackled for not intervening more quickly with the Qatari authorities. Blatter has said the issue is “not FIFA’s primary responsibility but we cannot turn a blind eye.”

Sommer said it was “our mission to establish humane working conditions” in Qatar, where reported abuses include workers having pay withheld, passports confiscated and being prevented from leaving the country without consent from employers.

“Qatar must guarantee the (International Labor Organization’s) core labor standards and thus eliminate discrimination and forced labor as well as allow freedom of association for its 1.3 million migrant workers,” Sommer said.

Qatari World Cup organizers have acknowledged that the “kafala” system of employment sponsorship — which the U.N. wants abolished — needs to be modernized, and say the government is preparing reforms.

The meeting on Wednesday at FIFA involved the German ITUC leader and top football officials from Germany, whose industries are expected to figure strongly in bidding for construction contracts in Qatar worth tens of billions of dollars ahead of the World Cup.

“The awarding of the World Cup and the considerable public exposure gives us the opportunity to point out irregularities and to exact lasting change,” German football federation president Wolfgang Niersbach said.

FIFA said it gave executive committee member Theo Zwanziger of Germany a mandate to liaise with the ITUC and include human rights and labor organizations in the talks.

Zwanziger is scheduled to report on “concrete measures” regarding Qatar at the March 20-21 FIFA board meeting in Zurich.

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