Qatar have finally released an official statement responding to reports that 4,000 workers are likely to lose their lives working on sites for the 2022 World Cup, and they’ve claimed there hasn’t been a single death.
The response comes after the Washington Post published a blog on May 27, which estimated that 1,200 workers had already died while building stadiums and facilities in the Arab nation.
The Doha Government have since claimed that this figure represents all worker deaths in Qatar, rather than just those working on World Cup construction projects.
The official statement said:
An article in the Washington Post claimed that 4,000 workers are likely to die while working on World Cup sites and that some 1,200 had already lost their lives. This is completely untrue. In fact, after almost five million work-hours on World Cup construction sites, not a single worker’s life has been lost. Not one.
It is wrong to distort statistics to suggest that all deaths in such a large population are the result of workplace conditions. A calculation which assumes that the death of every migrant worker in Qatar is work related. Qatar has more than a million migrant workers. The Global Burden of Disease study, published in the Lancet in 2012, states that more than 400 deaths might be expected annually from cardiovascular disease alone among Qatar’s migrant population, even had they remained in their home countries.
The Washington Post article has now been amended to reflect this, but many news organisations have already run the news story with the figures cited in the blog as fact. The figures have even been cited in parliament. Qatari officials claim that the nation has suffered reputational damage because of the “myth” perpetrated by the blog.
Even so, this doesn’t change the fact that worker conditions in the country are still dreadful. Qatar has a construction sector which is not properly regulated and even if people have not died working on the stadiums, Nicholas McGeehan from Human Rights Watch points out that this is likely because “health and safety on (World Cup) sites is of a much higher standard than in the rest of Qatar’s construction sector”.
Living and working conditions in Qatar leave workers highly vulnerable to fatal heat stroke. Physically-exerting work over long periods of time in very high temperatures. To mitigate the risk, workers need breaks, shade, hydration, and – crucially – adequate sleep in cooled and ventilated accommodation. Qatar currently has a construction sector that is not adequately regulated and much of its housing stock for foreign workers is substandard.
Don’t forget too that Qatar has tried to stop the press reporting on migrant work conditions, arresting a group of BBC reporters last month.
You can expect the debates over Qatar’s human rights record to rumble on over the coming months, especially now that the Swiss Police are investigating FIFA’s awarding of the 2022 World Cup to the nation.