BWI welcomes progress by International Olympic Committee

On 10 December 1946, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Every year on that date, International Human Rights Day is celebrated. This year, BWI marks significant movement towards the respect of human rights by The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and an opportunity for the workers who make sporting events happen.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) published an article on their web site on 3 December entitled, “IOC Moves Forward with its Human Rights Approach”.  It reports on steps that it has already taken to address its human rights responsibilities in its operations, including creating a human rights unit as well as engagement with experts and human rights groups and trade unions. 

As part of that effort, the IOC commissioned a comprehensive report by HRH Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a former Chief of Human Rights in the United Nations and Rachel Davis, Vice President of Shift, which provides advice on the UN Principles on Business and Human Rights, unanimously adopted by the UN  Human Rights Council in June 2011. 

The report makes several important recommendations for more comprehensive, coherent, and workable human rights policy and action. They include: 

  • Taking clear positions on human rights responsibilities such as amending core IOC documents;

  • Embedding respect for human rights across the organisation so that they become an automatic element of decision making;

  • Identifying and addressing human rights risks through better due diligence, consultations, and work with National Olympic Committees; and

  • Tracking and communicating human rights progress.

BWI, as part of its long-standing sports and decent work campaign, has defended the rights and conditions of construction workers involved in building facilities for Olympic Games just as we have with FIFA facilitates. In the case of FIFA, our campaign has evolved into good cooperation in Qatar WC2022.

BWI has worked with affiliated trade unions and examined what is taking place in construction and building materials, whether it is the rights of workers to organise and bargain, timely payment of wages, the status and treatment of migrant workers, occupational health and safety or other issues. BWIs experience with the Olympics has been mixed and has largely depended on the willingness to cooperate of National Olympic Committees. 

For example, the Local Organizing Committee for the Tokyo Games for next year did nothing with the information that was gathered on serious health and safety risks and refused to talk with BWI and the Japanese construction trade unions. On the other hand, the French Local Organising Committee for the 2024 Games involved trade unions from the very beginning and adopted a social charter that addresses the key human rights issues, including worker rights. 

BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson welcomed the progress reported by the IOC and the recommendations to the IOC on a human rights strategy. He stressed that the expert report states, “The IOC needs to develop more creative partnerships for identifying and addressing human rights risks in connection with the Games, such as with trade unions.” He said that the contents of the report of experts are excellent, but “cooperation is essential if the recommendations are to be applied and make a difference.”

BWI Deputy President Dietmar Schaefers asserted that, “Our purpose is to defend the rights, conditions, and dignity of workers. In order to be effective in carrying out that mission, BWI seeks such ‘creative partnerships’ with the IOC in our sectors. We are not interested in speaking from a distance, but rather rolling up our sleeves and getting the job done on the ground, where it counts. We firmly believe, in the spirit of the Olympics, that respecting human rights is vital to building a better world through sports.”