Immigrants Subject to “Modern Slavery” at 2022 World Cup Construction Sites in Qatar

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In preparation for the 2022 World Cup, immigrant workers in Qatar are being subjected to unethical and life-threatening working conditions, with estimates that hundreds of workers are dying each year as a result, the Guardian’s David Conn reported in September, 2017. The exact number of workers who have died in Qatar as a result of World Cup construction is not known because, as Human Rights Watch has reported, “Qatari public health officials have not responded to requests for information about the overall number and causes of deaths of migrant workers since 2012.”

In November, 2017, Conn wrote a follow-up article for the Guardian stating that FIFA—the international governing body that manages the World Cup—”has been urged by its own advisory board on human rights to press the Qatar government about the impact of the kafala system on workers building stadiums for the 2022 World Cup, which campaigners have described as modern slavery”. The kafala system is a sponsorship program that ties workers to one construction company and can confiscate passports and even abuse workers without repercussions.

The FIFA human rights advisory board reported that a “commitment to decent human rights standards” will be in place to protect workers’ health and safety on construction sites. When Human Rights Watch sent FIFA reports of Qatar’s “dangerous climate conditions” and “unexplained deaths of thousands of workers,” FIFA’s response was only a request for “further information about inquiries made into workers’ death”.

Meanwhile, ESPN reported that the International Labor Organization (ILO), a United Nations labor rights agency, recognized improvements in working conditions and labor rights, deciding to end its complaint against Qatar. The ESPN article claimed, without evidence, that the Qatar World Cup “banned companies with stadium contracts from using the kafala system”. The article did not mention how to solve the harsh heat that the immigrant workers face.

Labor rights abuses related to the upcoming World Cup in Qatar have received little or no coverage by establishment media. Only ESPN, a sporting media source, published an article on Qatar’s inhumane treatment of migrant workers; however, the article focused on the positives changes that Qatar has made for the workers, without hard evidence of those changes, and rather than covering the deaths of workers. Details of the workers’ experience of harsh environmental workings conditions, poor pay, long hours, and constant abuse of construction companies were omitted from the ESPN coverage. Meanwhile, alternate sources such as the Guardian and Huffington Post included evidence of research. Furthermore, the length of the alternative source’s article doubles the length of ESPN’s article, which leads to a more informative article that gives the audience greater understanding of issues that establishment media failed to cover.


David Conn, “Thousands of Qatar World Cup Workers ‘Subjected to Life-Threatening Heat’,” The Guardian, September 26, 2017,

David Conn, “FIFA Urged to Press Qatar on Conditions for World Cup Stadium Workers.” The Guardian, November 9, 2017,

Student Researcher: David Chen (Syracuse University)

Faculty Evaluator: Ellen Fallon (Syracuse University)