4 February 2014 | Will Green
It seems incredible that 4,000 migrant workers may have to lay down their lives to allow 2022’s World Cup in Qatar to go ahead.
For that is the death toll predicted by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) due to working conditions that have been likened to “modern-day slavery”, unless Qatar reforms practices to meet international labour laws.
Maplecroft has worsened the country’s risk rating from “high” to “extreme risk” in its latest Working Conditions Index, following the death of 185 Nepalese workers on building sites, and it says allegations of forced labour have increased.
But what is most perplexing is why a country with such wealth should allow such working practices to continue. It’s clearly possible to undertake such ambitious infrastructure projects without inhumane treatment, so why is it happening in a country ranked among the richest in the world?
The reputational risk to firms doing business in the country is obvious, particularly in these times when consumers and the media seem to be paying much more attention to supply chain issues.
The Rana Plaza garment factory disaster and the horse meat scandal shone a spotlight on supply chains, leaving firms playing catch-up to restore faith in their brands. And the public shows no sign of losing interest in the issues thrown up by these events.
Globalisation has made the world a smaller place for firms, and technology has given consumers enormous power to scrutinise their behaviour and disseminate information on a vast scale. It may well be the days when people would buy a product and be uninterested in its origins are gone.
The ITUC is campaigning for the World Cup vote to be re-run in light of the lack of workers’ rights, and the removal of the tournament from the country has to be the ultimate threat. The question left hanging must be: is a sporting competition worth even a single human life?