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BWI “Red Card for FIFA” Campaign

Claudio Sottile, Head of European and international policies FILCA CISL Nazionale*

The Building and Woodworker’s International (BWI) is the World Trade Union Federation that safeguards construction workers and counts among the most effective tools for its activity that of “building” campaigns worldwide. The objectives of the campaigns are: solidarity, especially with migrant workers, social responsibility shared with multinational companies through international framework agreements also for sport. Sport campaigns, an experience of more than ten years, have brought good results by making many steps forward for the respect of human and labor rights.

The launch of the first “Sports Campaign” took place in 2009 in connection with work on the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.  The campaign was aimed at decent work and resulted in obtaining the collective agreement for the duration of the worksites, better and safer working conditions, 12% wage increases and other benefits, as well as encouraging more than 30 thousand workers to join the union. The same sports campaign was replicated for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, though unfortunately on the safety side there were more fatalities (14) than in South Africa (2). BWI gave the “Yellow Card” to FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) on these two countries.

It is with FIFA’s awarding of the World Cup to Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) that the “Red Card for FIFA” campaign was born. Before granting the games, FIFA should have verified that both human and labor rights were respected in the assigning countries.

For the sports campaigns in Russia and Qatar, BWI’s strategy was aimed at multiple actors (governments – FIFA – multinational companies present), and was based not only on enforcing human and labor rights standards, but also on the inclusion of migrants’ rights, which are present in high percentages: 40% in Russia and 99% in Qatar in the construction sector. The strategy also included influencing labor policies in the two countries.  In addition, it called for the commitment of the many multinationals to ensure respect for the rights of all workers, including migrants, and to exert pressure on FIFA to improve the welfare of those employed in the construction sites. FIFA should have exerted strong pressure on both governments and multinationals.

In Qatar, many European companies are involved in the construction of infrastructure, subways, highways and stadiums; e.g.

In Qatar the “Kafala” system, common in the Arab world, was in force, which did not give the worker full freedom of action ( he or she could not change employer if his or her sponsor did not authorize it, and needed an exit visa granted by the employer in order to leave the country).

In the FIFA regulations, there was a void regarding minimum social requirements to which the assignment of games should be subject. The BWI has requested that some of its recommendations become a binding part of the achievement of the Olympic Games/World Championships: FIFA already has its own rules for the respect of the environment, for the standards of “green stadiums” projects and it is therefore a moral and political responsibility to include, in a binding manner, the guarantees for the respect of human rights standards and international labor standards. Also not to be neglected are the rules on health and safety at work and decent wages, together with careful monitoring of temporary agencies, creating control mechanisms such as (joint) inspections in the workplace to verify their implementation.  It has taken many demonstrations and mobilizations, as well as media campaigns to raise the interest of public opinion worldwide, along with a continuous and steady commitment by the BWI over the years with the support of some “historical” sponsors of the World Cup (e.g. Adidas Visa  Coca Cola) who responded to BWI’s urging to pressure FIFA on the Qatar issue. In the meantime, the Qatar Foundation, responsible for the World Cup, has also been reprimanded on labor issues by the ILO (International Labor Organization) and the change at the top of FIFA, the election of the new President Gianni Infantino, who has shown great attention to human rights, has favored the inclusion of BWI requests in the selection criteria of candidate countries for future World Cups. These new standards have already been taken into account in the selection for the 2026 World Cup (US-Canada and Mexico).

After more than two years of negotiations, a Memorandum of Understandings (MoU) was signed in November 2016 between the BWI and the “Supreme Committee of Qatar” (a body created for the purpose headed by a member of the royal house) to carry out, in the construction sites for stadiums and in the housing of workers employed in these works, periodic joint inspections aimed at verifying working conditions and aspects related to health and safety to prevent/reduce the number of injuries and fatal accidents.

The Memorandum of Understandings concerns contracts awarded to multinationals, mostly European but also partly Chinese, and has been renewed every 12 months since 2016. At the end of each inspection, individual reports are drawn up and recommendations are made by the BWI to find solutions to any problems encountered during the inspections at meetings with the joint working group of which the Supreme Committee is also a member.

The Memorandum of Understandings stipulates, among other things, that each worker, prior to entering the worksite, be given basic health and safety training (personal protective equipment, signs, etc.) and medical checks (blood tests, cardiological examinations, etc.) be carried out. The Memorandum of Understandings has also enabled the creation of a worker welfare forum with periodic meetings between the Supreme Committee, some worker representatives and a consulting agency. 

The continued commitment and efforts of the BWI, as well as that of CSI-ITUC (World Trade Union Confederation),and other bodies and organizations committed to greater protection of human and labor rights, with appeals to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), have had satisfactory results.

The call to abolish the Kafala system in Qatar is now on track. After the labor law reform adopted by the Qatari government:

– the decision to change employers or the issuance of an exit visa from the country, is taken by the Ministry of Labor (inspectorate) and not by the sponsor (Law 18/2020);

– a minimum wage for workers in the private sectors has been introduced (Law 17/2020) and increased penalties for companies for both failure to pay wages (from one month to one year imprisonment in addition to a fine) and failure to provide adequate housing (with one month imprisonment and a fine).

It should be noted that a high number of fatal accidents had been caused by exposure to high temperatures (even 50°C), therefore the decision regarding the suspension from work in the summer season during the hottest hours (from 11 to 15) should not be underestimated, in addition to that already in force during the period of “Ramadam” for those observing the Muslim religion.

BWI must never lower its guard, the next goal is to extend these benefits obtained with the Memorandum of Understanding also to those workers employed in construction sites that are not only involved in building stadiums, but also other infrastructures such as subways, highways, etc.. and always keep handy the red card to report even the slightest infraction that is made to the detriment of human rights and labor. 

Thanks to these achievements, the lives of migrant workers have improved in Qatar where, it should be noted, workers are still not allowed to unionize. 

Sports is big business

World Cup 2010: South Africa got 93 billion rand into the local economy; the 1-month event contributed 0.5% to the annual GDP  

EuroCup 2012: Poland allocated 2.4 billion euros and Ukraine finally spent around 10.7 billion euros
World Cup 2014: Brazil spent 13 billion usd to host the last edition of the world cup and estimated to have received 7.2 billion usd in tax revenue
World Cup 2018: Russia’s public and private expenditures reached 15 billion usd (3 billion usd for stadiums)
it is a massive supply-value chain with various sectors/industries covering numerous countries

non-profit sports bodies = profits  

ioc generated 5.7 billion usd of revenues from Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 olympics  

FIFA made 3.2 billion usd in wc 2010, 4.8 billion usd for wc 2014 and 5.7 billion usd from wc 2018  

expansion of membership +75,000  

organizing migrant workers (“sports-migration nexus”)  

enhanced collective agreements  

52 strikes in 2 world cups (rio 2016-russia 2018)
2 sectoral strikes in rio 2016  

mobilized BWI almost half of the affiliates around the world  

(Source BWI)

*President of the EWC coordinators group of EFBWW and National EWC Coordinator at EFBWW for FENEAL UIL-FILCA CISL-FILLEA CGIL

Member of the BWI working group on multinational corporations and sports campaigns.

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