Panel presents mega sports events as opportunity for social change


A panel during the recent BWI Global Conference on Nexus of Sports and Migration in June 2017 in Berlin underscored the idea that trade unions and other organisations should see mega-sports events as opportunities to trigger social change on labour and human rights issues. The panel session moderated by Rita Schiavi of UNIA (Switzerland), featured representatives from UNITE the Union (UK), the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Amnesty International, and as well as highlighting issues like migrant worker exploitation and violations of trade union rights, participants sought to highlight successful strategies for addressing these problems.

Investigative journalist for the Norwegian magazine Josimar, Håvard Melnæs set the scene, describing how he conducted research in Russia to uncover the exploitive working conditions of North Korean migrant workers working at the St. Petersburg stadium, one of the venues for the 2018 World Cup Tournament. Through his investigations he stated, that the workers were living and working in “slave-like” conditions, where they worked long hours under strict supervision with very few days off. In addition, they were forced to live in poorly equipped containers.

James Lynch, the Deputy Director of the Global Issues Program at Amnesty International, presented the findings of a new report entitled, “Turning People into Profits: Abusive Recruitment, Trafficking and Forced Labour of Nepali Migrant Workers.” He noted that despite new policies, two-thirds of migrants are still paying more than US$1000 to get jobs, and that a significant proportion of their salaries will go towards servicing this debt, and may even lead to forced labour. He recognized the efforts of the Nepalese government to protect their citizens being forced to work abroad; however, unfortunately the government has not allocated sufficient resources to stop these exploitive practice, even though migrant workers now contribute 30% of Nepal’s GDP.

Rémy Friedmann, Senior Advisor at the Swiss Government’s Desk for Human Security and Business, believes that mega sporting events have the potential to bring social benefits, but that there are inherent risks. Since 2015 the Swiss Government has initiated a multi-stakeholder dialogue, which focuses on identifying risks (including human rights, supply chain, and evictions), and collectively looking for solutions throughout an event’s life-cycle.

UNITE’s National Construction Development Officer Jim Kennedy has participated on a number of missions to Qatar already. Kennedy underscored the need for stricter frameworks for the inclusion of labour and human rights as part of the initial bidding process. He also noted the importance of being able to track migrant workers at the worksite-level to ensure their rights are protected when they change between worksites and subcontractors.