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The FIFA Syndrome

Author(s): Lucy P. Marcus

The arrest of senior FIFA executives on a raft of fraud and corruption charges has been front-page news in recent days. But the charges brought by the authorities do not address another egregious injustice: the treatment of the migrant workers in Qatar who are building the stadiums for the 2022 FIFA Football World Cup.

From Project Syndicate:

The arrest of FIFA executives on a raft of fraud and corruption charges has been front-page news in recent days. But the charges brought by the Swiss and American authorities focus on bribery and embezzlement, and do not address another egregious injustice: the treatment of the migrant workers in Qatar who are building the stadiums for the 2022 FIFA Football World Cup.

 Amnesty International recently released a report on the abysmal conditions in Qatar. The workers are subject to unsafe construction sites, exploitative recruitment agencies, and little recourse to formal justice. Recently, Nepal’s labor minister publicly spoke out about the government of Qatar not allowing his country’s migrant workers to return home to mourn relatives who died in the April 2015 earthquake.

 

 As Amnesty International notes, the responsibility lies primarily with the Qatari authorities. But FIFA had – and still has – a responsibility to act. There have also been calls for sponsors, including McDonalds, Visa, Coca-Cola, Adidas, Budweiser, Gazprom, KIA, and Hyundai, to place pressure on FIFA and Qatar to improve working conditions.

 Such issues have arisen in recent years in other sectors as well. In April, Human Rights Watch issued a report on the treatment of garment workers in Bangladesh. The report, prompted by the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, in which more than 1,100 people died and over 2,000 were injured, highlighted poor working conditions, inadequate building inspections, weak labor laws, and the need for fairer wage practices and legal benefits.

Beyond these examples, there have been many others. In technology, Apple and Foxconn have faced criticism for working conditions at their Chinese production sites. Even educational institutions, such as New York University’s new campus in Abu Dhabi, have been tainted by episodes of workplace exploitation and abuse.

These are not isolated cases. For every disaster and high-profile case that hits the headlines, there are many more that we never hear about.

Nonetheless, one hopes that the treatment of those who make the goods, produce the services, and build the things that make us happy and productive – from clothing and technology to sports stadiums and college campuses – continues to come under scrutiny. Globalization should force managers – and all of us – to do some serious thinking about labor practices around the world.

Here is where it gets complicated. What counts as a company’s workforce? Are “its” workers only those people on its own payroll? Are companies responsible for their products’ entire supply chains? To what extent can – and should – a company be held to account for the choices of those who may be several links removed? When a serious issue has been brought to a company’s attention, are its managers obliged to address it, even if it involves the subcontractor of a subcontractor?

 The larger and more complex the company, the harder it is to track all of the firms with which it does business, the firms that they then subcontract to, and so on. Companies, not surprisingly, say that their responsibility extends only so far. But that is not an answer; it is a choice. Organizations can decide to extend their reach. They can even decide that they want to know the full provenance of all materials and components in their products, and that they will hold their extended suppliers to account.

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