BWI 2022 Global Sports Conference sparks discussion on migrant workers’ rights

The Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI) held a two-day forum on migrant workers’ rights and the legacy of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar at its 2022 Global Sports Conference.

The event, which was held in Doha, Qatar, drew the attendance and participation of various trade unions from different parts of the world, Qatari government officials, migrant workers’ associations, FIFPRO, the worldwide organisation of professional footballers, and other important stakeholders. 

FIFPRO Deputy General Secretary Simon Colisimo delivered the keynote address, saying that football players, like construction workers, are also workers who experience labour issues, such as non-settlement and/or breach of contracts, and restrictions to freedom of movement. He underscored the need for trade unions, migrant workers’ associations and football teams and players to work together for equal labour rights for all. “Things don't change on their own, you have to work with other organizations,” he said. 

BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson observed that there is real solidarity fostered amongst migrant construction workers and footballers. He said that the World Cup must strengthen the social dimension of its brand as a global sports event. He also said that FIFA must ensure that the reforms made in Qatar should be sustained after the 2022 World Cup.

“All these World Cups are wonderful, but having a strong social dimension to the events is very important as well. Sports have an impact on human rights and working conditions. As such, the football players’ decision to wear shirts promoting human and labour rights is certainly welcomed. They amplified the voice of migrant workers. We hope that this will be a turning point for all future international sporting events,” Yuson said. 

Various stakeholders echoed the good partnership that they have developed with BWI and its affiliated trade unions globally . " The partnership with BWI is the most rewarding we have had with field missions and joint inspections. Our first task was to define the scope of work and set of objectives. Around this work, a lot of trainings were organised to change the health and safety culture on construction sites” said Van Dyck of the Workers’ Welfare of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC).


"I was skeptical at first when BWI approached me about the joint inspections.. But now I can say that our environment was based on trust. Health and safety must remain a legacy,” BWI Lead Inspector Simon Hester said. 

This was echoed by both Vinci and Besix, multinational companies operating in Qatar. “Thanks to the global agreement with BWI, we have been able to strengthen the quality of our work in Qatar. A bridge was built and we got together in the middle. It established quality dialogues with migrant workers and a relationship based on trust in full transparency. We hope that what has been put in place for this Cup will continue,” Henriette McCool of Vinci said.  

"Even before the signing of the International Framework Agreement, Besix had asked the Belgian trade unions to come to Qatar to visit its construction sites. We realized that it was important to have cooperation with other organisations. We signed the International Framework Agreement with the BWI because it was important for us that our direct and indirect workers have access to the same rights” said Geert Aelbrecht of Besix. 

For their part, various trade unions expressed their commitment to protect and advance the rights of migrant workers, as for those involved in global sports events. Jean-Marc Candille of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour  (CFDT) and Gianni de Vlaminck of the General Union (CG-Belgium) both agreed that migrant workers’ rights must be fully recognised. “Human dignity, workers' rights, health and safety must be respected. The signing of an international framework agreement has ensured that subcontractors are also covered,” they both said. 

Jean-Pascal François of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT-France) concurred, saying that trade unions must not stop denouncing the abuses suffered by migrant workers. 

Meanwhile, Pierre Cuppens of Algemeen Christelijk Vakverbond (ACV-Belgium) said that there are still many multinationals in Europe that don't have international framework agreements. “The lesson is simple: a multinational that does not sign an international framework agreement is engaged in unfair competition and must not work globally. When we work together, social dialogue benefits everyone,” he said. 

The second day of the conference opened with a session on the experiences of Workers Representatives and migrant community groups in putting forward suggestions on sustaining the gains in workers representation and protections achieved in the World Cup sites, at national and company levels. This was led by Migrant community leaders from the Community Leaders Forum, INBCWF President Rama Chandra Khuntia, BWI-Nepal Affiliates Committee Coordinator Jhapat Gurung and Marco Polo Ferrer, BWI Community Liaison Officer: Evaluation of education, communication and information activities. 

This was followed by an afternoon session, moderated by Byggnads President Johan Lindholm, on how to expand on the labour reforms achieved in Qatar beyond the World Cup. Andres Peñate, Global Vice-President, Regulatory & Public Affairs, AB InBev, World Cup Sponsors, William Rook, Deputy Chief Executive, Centre for Sports and Human rights, Elizabeth Tang, General Secretary, International Domestic Workers Federation, Andreas Graf, Head of Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination, FIFA and representatives from Amnesty International and  football associations participated in the discussion. 

The two-day event was closed by BWI Deputy President Dietmar Schäfers, who is also Deputy Chair of Germany’s IG BAU.