THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A Dutch labor union said Monday it will launch legal action against FIFA if soccer’s governing body does not step in to halt what it called “modern slavery” in the construction of venues for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Dutch union FNV, which is taking legal action along with 21-year-old Bangladeshi worker Nadim Shariful Alam, said it wants “FIFA to accept its responsibility and end exploitation of workers” in construction work ahead of the tournament.
The union is the latest organization to call for action against poor working conditions for laborers since Qatar was awarded the hosting rights.
The gas-rich emirate is expected to spend tens of billions of dollars before the November-December 2022 tournament kicks off, preparing eight new and renovated stadiums and related projects such as transport links and accommodation.
Qatar is relying heavily on workers from south Asia who are tied to the “kafala” system of sponsorship common in Gulf nations, which critics say exposes migrants to exploitation.
Under the system, “workers like Nadim are lured to Qatar with enticing stories and now work as modern slaves for the super-rich Qataris,” FNV representative Ruud Baars said.
The union said that Alam paid nearly 4,000 euros ($4,500) to travel to work in Qatar, where he unloaded freight ships for 18 months before losing his job and being thrown out of the country. He is demanding 10,000 euros ($11,000) compensation in a writ that will be filed in a Zurich court if FIFA takes no action within three weeks.
Foreigners account for roughly 90 percent of the 2.5 million people living in Qatar, many of them low-paid migrant workers from South Asia.
Qatari authorities have promised reforms, and on Monday launched a campaign to familiarize employers, workers, embassies and other organizations with a new labor law set to be implemented in December.
“This work is vital for raising awareness among employers of Qatar’s labor laws, and ensuring there are mechanisms in place for safeguarding of employees rights,” Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs Issa bin Saad al-Jafali al-Nuaimi said in a statement.
The government has already made other changes, including moving some laborers into improved accommodations and instituting a “wage protection system” to tighten oversight of salary payments.
FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
During a visit to Qatar earlier this year, FIFA President Gianni Infantino pledged to create a panel to monitor construction at World Cup stadiums and ensure decent working conditions.
“We take our responsibility seriously and are committed to playing our part,” Infantino said in a FIFA statement published in April.