Amnesty International slams Canada Soccer's 'deafening silence' over worker exploitation in Qatar

'Canada Soccer's leadership should not be limited to the pitch or the boardroom'

Amnesty International slams Canada Soccer's 'deafening silence' over worker exploitation in Qatar

Amnesty International has called out Canada Soccer over its "deafening silence" on the reported issues of migrant worker exploitation in Qatar during the lead-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Ketty Nivyabandi, Amnesty International Canadian Section secretary general, made the remarks as Canada men's national soccer team is set to play on Wednesday, the first time after a 36-year drought since 1986.

"Canada Soccer's leadership should not be limited to the pitch or the boardroom," Nivyabandi said in an open letter to Canada Soccer. "Your organization's deafening silence on fair compensation for affected migrant workers and their families is a failure of leadership and could leave a lasting stain on Canada's re-emergence on soccer's biggest stage."

Qatar has been embroiled in controversy since it was announced as the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Amnesty International previously reported that "thousands of workers" have been subjected to labour abuses such as low pay. Qatar's "Kafala" system of sponsorship-based employment also binds migrant workers to their employers and prevents them from changing or leaving jobs, according to the organisation.

Qatar has also yet to investigate the death of "thousands of migrant workers" who purportedly died of extreme heat while working on World Cup-related projects, Amnesty International said.

Canada Soccer in October said it met with the Canadian Embassy in Doha in April, July, and September to discuss the "latest updates on human rights and matters of inclusivity in Qatar."

"We have also met and were provided presentations by the International Labour Organization and Amnesty International where good discussions and updates were shared from both organisations," Canada Soccer said in its previous statement.

However, Amnesty International questioned Canada Soccer's commitment as it reportedly "failed to follow up" with the Amnesty International's Migrant Labour working group in discussing their support for a remedy for workers.

"Unlike some other football associations where this led to new or increased engagement with them on these issues, Canada Soccer did not respond to our letter and since the one meeting in July we had no further engagement with them," said May Romanos and Ella Knight, researchers from the working group, as quoted in the open letter.

'Not too late for Canada Soccer'

In the letter, Nivyabandi challenged the leadership of Canada Soccer to make the following commitments before the country's national team marks its return to the field:

  • Endorse the USD$440-million Workers Compensation Fund for laborers and families who suffered harms in the lead-up to the Qatar World Cup
  • Meet with Amnesty International representatives in the next 30 days to:
    • discuss concerns about Canada Soccer's response to human rights violations connected to the Qatar World Cup
    • start developing an action plan that would see Canada Soccer emerge as a leader in the field of sports and human rights ahead of the 2026 FIFA World Cup

"Leadership requires more than treating workers' rights as a procedural 'box to be ticked.' Fortunately, it is not too late for Canada Soccer to step out from the sidelines, join other international teams on the human rights field, and become the global player it asserts it is," Nivyabandi said. "Whatever success our men's team nets on the playing field, you can make Canada proud this World Cup by taking concrete action on workers' rights. For Amnesty International Canada's part, it would be an honour to help you achieve that goal."

Canada marks its return to the FIFA World Cup after defeating Jamaica in March. Meanwhile, Canada is set to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup with the United States and Mexico. 

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