By Tony Attwood
As Walter pointed out in his article Taking on Fifa: How the Dutch FA has become the first to tell Fifa it has had enough Fifa is now facing legal action in the Swiss courts over alleged complicity in the mistreatment of migrant workers in Qatar. The writ argues that “Swiss law, and also Qatari law and international law oblige Fifa to respect fundamental human rights and refrain from wrongdoing”.
It is the first time that Fifa has been made directly accountable in the Swiss courts and like the raids on Fifa’s HQ what saw the downfall of the old Fifa hierarchy, it comes about because of a change to the Swiss law which Untold reported on 22 January 2015 – suggesting that action against Fifa could at last happen. And as we subsequently found out, it did. (As you will know if you are a regular reader I’m rather proud of that little article which emerged before any of the national press spotted what was going on – although I’m not allowed to say that any more as I get told off for crowing and being a show-off).
Gianni Infantino & co have three weeks to accept its complicity and pay damages, or else go to court. The damages sought are modest in the extreme (5,390.53 Swiss francs). But Fifa’s problem is not that they would have to pay, nor that they will sully their good name (for they have no good name, obviously) but rather that if the legal action is successful, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers will queue up to make claims.
I don’t know if they have class actions in Swiss courts, but if they do, it could cause fault lines in the Fifa megastructure.
While this won’t hurt Fifa’s reputation a jot (what could, for such a grotesque organisation?) and still probably won’t bankrupt it (you could not believe how much money it has) it might just tip one or two nations with more morality to the view that they should pull out of the appalling and disgusting Fifa. And the cases will drag on forever. Although I suspect the English FA will hang on to the last moment.
Fifa’s argument that it doesn’t have responsibility for the countries it invades has never been challenged in the courts before. National governments whose teams play in the Fifa organised contests have wilfully ignored what goes on in order to enjoy the ride. So it has been left up to trades unions and other organisations to take on the fight against modern slavery. Something that Britain’s government talks a lot about, but won’t face fighting, when the slavery is organised under the Fifa umbrella.
In the writ Fifa is called upon to “acknowledge that it has acted wrongfully by awarding the World Cup 2022 to Qatar without demanding the assurance that Qatar observes fundamental human and labour rights vis-à-vis migrant construction workers whose work is related to the 2022 World Cup”.
The writ further argues that Fifa should have demanded the guarantee of the right of migrant workers to change jobs, freedom for them to leave Qatar if and when they chose to and the right to join or form trades unions.
Within the writ there is this statement:
“Fifa’s legal responsibility arose at two distinctive moments in time: (1) when it allowed Qatar to participate in the bidding contest for the World Cup 2022 and subsequently selected Qatar as host of the 2022 World Cup; and (2) when it failed and still is failing to take responsibility for the present fate of the migrant workers by not demanding Qatar to reform its labour system.”
Evidence supporting the writ comes from a series of reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch. It is also one of the topics the Guardian newspaper has worked on, so credit to them where it is certainly due.
The Qatari government has itself “looked into” the issue but it has taken only peripheral action and has not revealed how many workers have died or been seriously injured in the name of Fifa. All the complicit Football Associations deny that through being part of the process of playing in the Qatar World Cup they will be fully implicated in the actions of Qatar. All we need is for enough people to take the issue seriously for these Football Associations to realise that this is a step too far.
A few new laws have been proposed in Qatar, and there is improved accommodation for migrant workers working on building the stadia, but most migrant workers appear to have seen no change. Recruitment agencies in countries with poor records on protecting workers have been paid to bring unsuspecting workers into Qatar – and then they find they are unable to leave.
Fifa has endlessly said none of this is its business, and that it has no obligation to take note of the human rights report of expert Professor John Ruggie of Harvard University, which outlines the horrors faced by the workers. It also says it only has responsibility for World Cup stadia even though Qatar obviously has had to build new roads and hotels to meet Fifa’s requirements on transport and other facilities for its honoured guests and officials.
The legal case however argues that “The World Cup 2022 is the motivating force behind all these vast infrastructural projects, all scheduled to be completed before the tournament, on time for the influx of tourists expected,” and that Fifa could have forced Qatar to comply with its conditions – because it always has done so in the past. As Walter pointed it, it demands its own car lanes, it demands that it and its employees pay no tax, it demands no other events are held simultaneously…
What I am arguing is that those who give Fifa what it demands are complicit in all that Fifa does.
According to the Guardian, Professor Liesbeth Zegveld, of Dutch human rights lawyers Prakken d’Oliveira, is bringing the case with David Huesmann of Swiss law firm Shadenanwaelte. It quotes Professor Zegveld as saying, “Fifa may claim that it can do nothing but that is not the case. The union would rather see the World Cup stay in Qatar and for the country to meet its responsibilities to migrant workers but Fifa could still move the World Cup if it wanted to.
“We met with senior Qatari officials and they said they needed time to introduce new laws. They may say they need time but in reality they are just buying time. In any case, the new laws do too little to change the fundamental problems facing migrant workers and will mean little unless they are enforced.”
An official of the FNV union added, “The FNV takes the view that by awarding the World Cup to Qatar, the suffering of migrants increases. In any case, in situations like these, the number of migrant workers will increase. The FNV holds the Fifa responsible for this and wants to address the issue by means of this lawsuit.
“The world must do everything that is possible in order to change this situation. And if you expect the world to do this, you have to begin by taking responsibility yourself. That is why FNV is taking the matter to its source, and is holding the Fifa responsible.”
Fifa’s response via its head of sustainability, Federico Addiechi, to the Amnesty International report might cause those of a nervous disposition to be taken ill, so read this last comment at your own risk.
“While Fifa cannot and indeed does not have the responsibility to solve all the societal problems in a host country of a Fifa World Cup, Fifa has taken concrete action and is fully committed to do its utmost to ensure that human rights are respected on all Fifa World Cup sites and operations and services directly related to the Fifa World Cup.”
Recent revelations from Arsenal’s history
The Arsenal History Society publishes numerous series of articles exploring different aspects of Arsenal’s history. You can find an index to all the series to date on the Society’s web site.
Here are some of the most recent articles