April 20, 2016 / 5:27 PM / a year ago

FIFA says was slow to act on Qatar labor rights

The FIFA logo is seen outside the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, December 17, 2015. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

DOHA (Reuters) - FIFA was late to raise concerns about the treatment of migrant laborers on World Cup stadiums in Qatar and tournament organizers should do more to improve working conditions, an official from world soccer’s governing body said on Wednesday.

FIFA did not raise concerns about the abuse of laborers with the Qatar 2022 organizing committee until last May, five years after the hosting rights had been secured, said Federico Addiechi, FIFA’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility.

He added that prior to 2015, FIFA did not consider the construction of stadiums its responsibility.

“When it comes to human rights policy... we started, in connection with Qatar and its bidding process for 2022, late, yes,” Addiechi told reporters and trade union members at a human rights conference in Doha.

“As soon as we acknowledged... that an organization like FIFA should be involved in addressing possible violations of human rights in stadiums, we did (contact Qatar),” he said.

Qatari officials said they were working to resolve issues raised over working conditions and that they needed time to fix problems in the labor system.

Two weeks after Amnesty International reported on ongoing abuses in Qatar’s preparations for the World Cup, Addiechi said FIFA would not use the threat of removing hosting rights in order to push for reform.

He said FIFA wanted to work with organizers to improve conditions for foreign workers hired by sub-contractors on tournament sites.

“We would like to see the efforts that are being made to implement welfare standards for migrant workers, that this trickle down to the lowest part of the supply chain,” he said.

SQUALID CONDITIONS

Last week, John Ruggie, a former UN advisor on human rights, published a report urging FIFA to be more transparent and use its negotiating leverage to ensure countries bidding for the World Cup protect the rights of people who build stadiums.

The recommendations came after Amnesty International described abuses, including construction workers from Nepal and India being charged recruitment fees and housed in squalid conditions.

FIFA’s newly-elected president Gianni Infantino will visit Qatar on Thursday to meet with officials. He is currently in Russia as part of a trip to the next two hosts of the World Cup.

The Switzerland-based federation has been thrown into turmoil in the past year with criminal investigations into corruption in the sport under way in the United States, where several dozen former soccer officials have been indicted, and Switzerland.

Infantino faces pressure from human rights groups to press for reform of labor laws in Qatar including its “kafala” sponsorship system, whereby employers effectively control a worker’s freedom to leave the country.

Accusations of corruption during its World Cup bid as well as concerns about provisions inside stadiums and the heat of summer months have cast a shadow over Qatar’s efforts to become the tournament’s first Arab host.

Infantino, however, has dismissed calls for the 2022 World Cup to be held elsewhere and Addiechi said FIFA would not look to remove hosts in order to push for human rights reform.

“It is not a matter of excluding anyone, it is about identifying risks and having a plan to address them,” Addiechi said. “When it comes to human rights we are stepping up the fight and realizing we have an additional responsibility.”

Reporting by Tom Finn; Editing by Toby Davis

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