The Indicator: Will We Stay Silent? The Human Cost of Qatar's World Cup

Qatar says the World Cup projects are “on track,” but the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which has been investigating worker deaths in the Gulf Emirate for the last two years, vehemently disagrees. To date there have been 1200 worker deaths associated with the on-going World Cup projects. A scathing report, issued by the ITUC on March 16, claims that unless significant improvements are made to working conditions on World Cup-related sites at least 4000 more migrant construction workers could lose their lives. This would mean that those construction sites are “on track” to kill 600 workers per year, or at least 12 per week until the ribbons are cut and the fireworks are set off.

At a FIFA executive committee meeting held in Zurich on March 20, FIFA president Sepp Blatter stated, “We have some responsibility but we cannot interfere in the rights of workers." Likewise, local FIFA organizing committee in Qatar says workers are not their responsibility. Zaha Hadid said the same.

However, given the increasing chorus of headlines along the lines of “The Qatar World Cup is a Total Disaster” they may have to say something stronger on the issue at some point — or have the image of their architecture tarnished. Of course we all know that what they mean is that legally it is not their responsibility. But does that mean they should be sitting back, not even attempting to influence change?

Get all the facts on the situation of the Qatar construction workers, after the break…

The UN, which has been outspoken on the issue since last November, views an international event like the World Cup as an opportunity for Qatar to reform its migrant labor sector. According to Amnesty International, 94 percent of the Qatari labor market is made up of migrant workers from Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Iran, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Egypt. “I hope the 2022 World Cup will be used as an opportunity for Qatar to enhance the effective respect, protection and fulfillment of the rights of migrant workers,” the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, said at the end of his first visit to the country.

A spokesman for the Qatari government body overseeing World Cup development told the Guardian that, “The health, safety, wellbeing and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 FIFA World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee and we are committed to ensuring that the event serves as a catalyst toward creating sustainable improvements to the lives of all workers in Qatar." 

But Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, isn’t buying it. “Qatar is a government which takes no responsibility for workers, and its response to criticism is focused on public relations,” he says. The Qatari government has also attempted to discredit the ITUC report by claiming that it is “littered with factual errors and attempts to discredit the positive work we are undertaking.” 

According to the UN and human rights organizations that have been monitoring the situation, there is strong evidence that Qatar is treating migrant workers as slave labor, withholding pay, confiscating passports, providing squalid, unsanitary, unhealthy living conditions, demanding payments before workers can leave for holidays, not enforcing safe working conditions on the construction sites, and - to add to all this - forcing them to work in 122-degree heat with no rest or food. 

Should concerned architects and engineers step into the ring alongside the ITUC, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations? Should architects and other stakeholders raise their voices? Or should they simply say it isn’t their responsibility? 

For more on this issue, we recommend watching The Guardian's impactful video.

Image of Doha construction via

Guy Horton is a writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to authoring "The Indicator", he is a frequent contributor to The Architect's Newspaper, Metropolis Magazine, The Atlantic Cities, and The Huffington Post. He has also written for Architectural Record, GOOD Magazine, and Architect Magazine. You can hear Guy on the radio and podcast as guest host for the show DnA: Design & Architecture on 89.9 FM KCRW out of Los Angeles. Follow Guy on Twitter @GuyHorton.

About this author
Cite: Guy Horton. "The Indicator: Will We Stay Silent? The Human Cost of Qatar's World Cup" 27 Mar 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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