Fifa, the world football authority, has expressed concerns about players enduring temperatures of 50°C in the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar, but already the extreme heat and appalling ’slave labour’ working conditions have killed many migrant workers building the country’s stadiums and infrastructure.
According to an investigation by the Guardian (London) newspaper, Nepalese workers, who constitute the single largest group of labourers in the oil rich, monarchy-run state, have been dying at a rate of one a day during the summer.
More than 700 Indian workers died in Qatar between 2010 and 2012, and the International Trade Union Confederation predicts that another 4,000 migrant workers from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka could die on Qatar’s building sites before a world cup match takes place.
Many workers according to the investigation complain of being forced to work in searing heat with a lack of water. Inadequate food, filthy and overcrowded accommodation and unpaid poverty wages from employers who retain the workers’ passports, complete this picture of modern-day slavery.
Yet the Qatar regime, which has sponsored armed Jihadist groups in Libya and Syria and is lavishing an estimated $100 billion on world cup infrastructure, denies any responsibility for the ill-treatment of its huge imported workforce. Instead, an embarrassed government spokesman claimed that humane treatment of migrant workers was the government’s "top priority".
At the same time as this slavery scandal was making the media headlines, workers on Brazil’s football World Cup 2014 and athletics Olympic Games 2016 infrastructure projects were found to be living in makeshift camps in "conditions analogous to slaves".
These workers were reportedly paid $220 to secure work on the promise of earning $625 a month. But they were not immediately employed and instead languished in appalling accommodation.
As members of LSR, the Socialist Party’s sister organisation in Brazil, recently explained in the Socialist, the construction projects related to the World Cup are also "causing the removal of thousands of families from their homes to make way for real estate speculation."
"Stadiums are privatised, corruption runs rampant in the construction projects of the Cup; super-exploitation of construction workers has caused accidents and deaths; contractors in collusion with state governments are profiting exorbitantly, while the rights of residents of big cities are trampled on."
But there has been a fight-back. In June LSR members reported that they participated in a millions-strong protest movement in over 100 cities which shook the government of President Dilma Rousseff into rescinding transport price hikes and promising widespread social reforms.
Low-paid garment workers in Bangladesh recently have also taken to the streets to demand higher wages and acceptable working conditions.
The plight of these workers came to prominence last April when over 1,100 workers lost their lives and 2,500 were injured when the unsafe Rana Plaza garment building collapsed near the capital, Dhaka.
The day before the disaster inspection teams had found huge cracks in the building’s structure.
But while shops and a bank on the lower floor immediately closed, the owners of the garment factory above told employees to continue working, despite the obvious safety risks.
There are an estimated 5,000 factories in Bangladesh paying around 3.2 million workers as little as $38 a month to make clothes for western-based companies such as Primark, Matalan, Wal-Mart, Benetton, etc, in a $19 billion industry.
The striking workers - who despite generating huge profits for multinational companies are paid the second lowest (to Burma) wages in Asia - have demanded more than a doubling of pay to achieve a $104 minimum monthly wage.
It is clear that the bosses and governments both globally and locally will not voluntarily protect workers when there are vast profits to be made.
Workers enduring conditions of modern slavery must organise into independent trade unions and be prepared to take strike action to bring the exploiting bosses and compliant governments to heel. International solidarity action can assist workers in such struggles.
Only strong union organisation can fight to improve workplace health and safety and drive up wages to acceptable levels. But the struggle to end capitalist exploitation once and for all must be linked to the struggle of workers for a socialist society.