FIFA holds meeting amid Qatar rights storm
A member of Building and Wood Workers' International and Swiss Unia unions holds a red card reading "A red card for FIFA, no World Cup without labour rights" during a demonstration outside FIFA headquarters in Zurich on October 3, 2013
FIFA's executive committee session had already been scheduled to grapple with the thorny issue of whether to shift the World Cup from its traditional June and July in order to escape the stifling Gulf heat, a plan which has angered European leagues that fear mid-season havoc.
But the pressure rose to fever pitch ahead of the two-day meeting at FIFA's headquarters in the Swiss city of Zurich, after new charges of slavery-style treatment of migrant labourers working on the emirate's massive infrastructure projects for the 2022 tournament.
Four dozen Swiss and international trade union activists rallied outside the gates of FIFA's building in a leafy suburb overlooking Zurich, urging the governing body to take a strong stand and not act as an accomplice.
They hammered home their message by brandishing red cards, chanting "Red Card for FIFA" and "No World Cup in Qatar without workers' rights".
Separately, international human rights group Amnesty International announced that it planned to publish an in-depth report next month on the situation in Qatar, the world's wealthiest nation per capita.
"The combination of forms of exploitation in certain cases that we have documented, we would consider that to amount to forced labour," James Lynch, Amnesty's researcher on foreign workers in the Gulf, told AFP in an interview.
Qatar and FIFA have found themselves in the eye of the storm after a probe published last week by British newspaper The Guardian on Nepalese construction workers at World Cup projects.
Quoting documents obtained by Kathmandu's embassy in Doha, the newspaper said thousands of Nepalese -- at 370,000 the second largest group of labourers in Qatar after Indians -- faced exploitation and abuses amounting to "modern-day slavery".
The report said that dozens had died working in Qatar in recent weeks.
Beyond the fatalities, critics including Amnesty's Lynch also point to forms of exploitation included the confiscation of passports, prevention of workers from leaving the country, withholding wages for long periods, and financial penalties for absence.
Other concerns include false promises on the nature of the work, that workers are indebted to recruiters or moneylenders, and that they are forced to live in crowded squalid camps.
The rules imposed by Gulf states on migrant labourers and other foreign workers have come in for frequent criticism in the past, but the fact that those concerning Qatar relate to the World Cup has intensified the spotlight.
FIFA expressed serious concern after The Guardian's report, while Qatar has rejected the claims.
"There is no slavery or forced labour in Qatar," Ali al-Marri, chairman of the emirate's National Human Rights Committee, said on Monday.
Qatar has commissioned a probe into the allegations by global law firm DLA Piper, saying it takes its international commitments seriously.
It also announced plans to double the number of labour inspectors in the emirate to 150.
That failed to satisfy that International Trade Union Confederation, which raised the alarm in August and is sending a delegation to Qatar next week.
"There are already labour inspectors and they have no impact," Sharan Burrow, secretary-general of the ITUC, said on Tuesday. "The promise simply to increase the number of labour inspectors is weak and disappointing."
"The construction frenzy for the football World Cup risks costing the lives of at least 4,000 workers over the next seven years if steps are not taken to guarantee the rights of migrant workers," said Burrow, chastising FIFA and Qatar for inaction despite two years of talks with rights campaigners.