On November 10, 2022, less than two weeks before the start of the Qatar World Cup, a London-based organization, Equidem, released a report on working conditions at the soccer stadiums’ construction sites. The report has attracted substantial media interest, with the migrant workers’ issue already in focus. The 75-page report alleges that migrant workers at World Cup stadium sites in Qatar have faced discrimination and exploitation and calls for urgent action to protect labor rights.
But Equidem’s report has severe flaws. It is marred by obvious factual failings and a biased viewpoint. It is superficial and misleading.
Blame Qatar for everything
Equidem was first established as a limited company in 2018 under the name Equidem Research and Consulting. In May 2021, a charity called Equidem was also incorporated in the UK.
Equidem released its first report in November 2020. It was mainly about the impact of Covid-19 on migrant workers in Qatar. Since then, Equidem has published three more reports. Two of them were about Qatar.
The November 2022 piece was supposed to be about the “major construction firms building stadiums.” Curiously, like the other Equidem papers, this report heavily implies that the government of Qatar is responsible for human rights abuses.
How leading European companies were labelled as Qatari-owned
Most major project contractors of a World Cup stadium were not local companies, as Equidem suggests, but large multinational corporations.
Six Construct Qatar and Joannou & Paraskevaides Qatar WLL are accused of several human rights violations (nationality-based wage discrimination, barriers to advancement, physical violence, verbal abuse, and absence of safe procedures to report rights violations at work).
Equidem fails to mention that both Six and Joannou & Paraskevaides are not Qatari-owned companies but subsidiaries of large European corporations. Cyprus-based Joannou & Paraskevaides was the main contractor of Education City Stadium. Six Construct is a subsidiary of Besix Group, Belgium’s largest construction company. Besix was a contractor at Al Janoub Stadium and Khalifa International stadium.
The main construction contractor of Al Janoub Stadium and Khalifa International stadium was Vienna-based Porr, one of the leading construction companies in Europe. Porr is not even mentioned in the report. On the other hand, the report refers several times to Salini Impregilo, the main contractor of Al Bayt stadium. Equidem does not mention that Salini Impregilo (currently Webuild) is an Italian company.
The inexisting construction firm on the Khalifa Stadium
Equidem claims its investigations “documented significant labour and human rights violations at all eight FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 stadiums.” These investigations, Equidem says, consisted of interviews carried out between September 2020 and October 2022 with 60 migrant workers employed at various stadiums.
But some data are obviously incorrect. For example, Equidem states it documented practices of “wage theft” (unpaid overtime, non-payment of severance) and “nationality-based wage
discrimination” at the Khalifa International Stadium. The accusations are based on an interview with “a Bangladeshi worker employed by Salini Impregilo Group on Al Bayt and Khalifa International Stadiums.” The same employee of Salini Impregilo is cited multiple times for various claims of rights violations at Khalifa Stadium: barriers to advancement, non-payment or underpayment of severance, and excessive work.
The simple truth is that Salini Impregilo has never worked at the Khalifa International Stadium.
The two “all-knowing” Bangladeshi security guards
Many of Equidem’s findings on work conditions on the stadiums’ construction sites came from interviews with workers who were not engaged in construction.
The most quoted workers are two Bangladeshi security guards employed by the same company in three different stadiums.
One of the security guards is mentioned eight times within the report as a source for Equidem’s conclusions on inadequate nutrition, inability to leave the employer and seek alternate employment, absence of safe procedures to report rights violations at work, health risks on stadium sites and in transit to work, barriers to promotion and advancement, understaffing and overwork, excessive heat and cold, creating a captive workforce.
The other is quoted seven times as a reference for occupational injuries, barriers to promotion and advancement, invisible workers and rights violations, understaffing and overwork, excessive heat and cold, inability to obtain and afford nutritious food, creating a captive workforce.
Buried in the report is the caveat that the “srious human rights abuse” at the hands of “major construction firms building stadiums” occurred “despite labour reforms by the Qatar government and measures by FIFA and its partners set up specifically to protect migrant workers from abuse.” Only four of the contractors even bothered to respond to Equidem inquiries, and all denied all of the allegations made by Equidem’s interviewees.
While the abusive treatment of migrant workers at the construction sites of the World Cup is undeniable, finding accurate and reliable data on the issue has been a big challenge. But the lack of information should not be used as an excuse for creating and sharing an inaccurate and misleading report.
About the Author
Duggan Flanakin (M.A., Public Policy, Regent University; B.A., History, Louisiana State University) has a long career as a journalist, poet, policy analyst, and advocate for human rights. An expert on environmental, energy, economics, and education policy, Flanakin has maintained a keen interest in the developing world. His writing can be found at Townhall.com, International Business Times, Real Clear Energy, European Times, The National Interest, and many others.