2034 FIFA World Cup Bid: BWI Lodges Complaint Against Saudi Arabia Over Forced Labour and Wage Theft

(Photo: Maria Moschou / Regardirect.ch)

Geneva, 5 June 2024 - In a landmark case, the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) is filing two formal complaints with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) against Saudi Arabia for severe human rights abuses and wage theft involving at least 21,000 construction workers by various but mainly two now-bankrupt Saudi construction companies alone.

The complaint emphasises the exploitative living and working conditions among the country’s vast migrant workforce: conditions that BWI notes are akin to forced labour. As Saudi Arabia positions itself to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup, this complaint demands immediate attention from FIFA and the international community. FIFA is expected to receive the single bid for the 2034 World Cup host in July.

The complaint calls for a thorough ILO investigation into these violations, emphasizing the urgent need for remedy and adherence to international labour standards. In response to BWI’s complaint, numerous trade unions in South and South-East Asia, Europe, Latin America, Africa and human rights organisations who have identified and documented similar violations in Saudi Arabia are supporting this call to the ILO, including Amnesty International, Equidem, FairSquare, Human Rights Watch and Solidarity Centre.

Among the many cases received by the BWI and other human rights organisations, findings based on direct evidence from around 200 migrant construction workers, paint a grim picture. Indicators of forced labour, as defined by the ILO, are rampant. Key findings include:

  • Debt bondage (85% of respondents)
  • Retention of passports and identity documents (65% of respondents)
  • Restrictions on terminating and exiting employment contracts freely (63% of respondents)
  • Withholding of wages (46% of respondents)

These abuses are compounded by Saudi Arabia's failure to uphold several ratified conventions, including Convention 29 on Forced Labour.

Noteworthy cases among those documented include a migrant worker burdened by illegal recruitment fees and withheld wages, who had to borrow money to survive, only to face severe health issues and ultimately return home in a coffin. Other accounts reveal the coercion of workers through the withholding of passports and documents, and physical and sexual violence, particularly against female and domestic workers, who are at heightened risk of experiencing severe abuses and extreme forms of forced labour.

Despite some of the over 20,000 workers finally starting to receive their long-overdue wages and pending arrears after nearly a decade of protracted claims against the now-liquidated major construction companies, the number of workers still suffering from unpaid dues and in situation of extreme vulnerability to abuses remains significantly higher than reported.

FIFA’s Human Rights Policy, adopted in 2017, outlines its responsibility to identify and address adverse human rights impacts of its operations, including taking adequate measures to prevent and mitigate labour and human rights abuses. Article 7 of FIFA’s Human Rights Policy states that “FIFA will constructively engage with relevant authorities and other stakeholders and make every effort to uphold its international human rights responsibilities.”

FIFA must ensure that Saudi Arabia addresses grave labour rights abuses and aligns its labour laws and practices with international standards before any further consideration of its World Cup bid.

Ambet Yuson, BWI General Secretary, said:

“Saudi Arabia, where trade unions are banned, blatantly disregards international labour standards and fails to compensate migrant workers who have suffered abuses for over a decade. With FIFA’s decision on the 2034 World Cup bid looming and required construction of at least ten new stadiums and infrastructure, it is imperative for FIFA and Saudi Arabia to resolve the outstanding wages of over 20’000 workers for whom we have provided evidence, and to establish mechanisms that prevent any further abuse before even considering the bid. FIFA must stop placing itself above international labour norms and its own human rights statutory obligations.”

Read the full statement and additional information   on the case file.

Read the BWI 2024 Report "Migrant Worker Conditions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" in EN  ES and FR  

Read the list of organisations supporting the call.