Manchester City have distanced themselves from Yaya Toure’s decision to visit and actively promote a hospital in Qatar that an Amnesty report has found to be at the centre of human rights abuses.
The Aspetar Hospital, which was so hungry for publicity that it paid for the visit of the Wales international rugby union team before last year’s World Cup, was built by workers whom the report revealed lived in squalid accommodation, paid fees of up to £3,000 for the right for Qatari employment, and then had wages withheld and passports confiscated. Every single construction and landscape worker of 231 interviewed by Amnesty in a 12-month period to February this year reported abuse of one kind or another.
The findings of the 50-page report are embarrassing for Toure, who has promoted the struggle of the impoverished classes in his native Ivory Coast. City indicated to The Independent that Toure’s decision to visit and be treated at the hospital before the 2014 World Cup and be pictured embracing executives there was a personal arrangement and not organised by them. No other player from Abu Dhabi-owned City is thought to use the Aspetar – built under the deeply exploitative kafala labour system, which ties workers to their employers and prevents them from changing jobs or leaving the country without the permission of their sponsor.
The Independent understands that the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU), who made use of the specialist health medicine Aspetar’s accommodation and an adjoining training pitch, would not have done so had they known about the human rights abuses which Amnesty has unearthed in its 50-page report.
The WRU are understood to have been aware of the controversy surrounding the construction of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup infrastructure – but not of specific allegations relating to the construction of the Aspire Zone sports complex, which includes the Khalifa International Stadium where World Cup games will be held in 2022 and the Aspetar. Everton told The Independent that they had not been aware of how the facility was built when taking winter breaks there, this and last year.
The Amnesty report is the first to uncover testimony of human rights abuses at a specific 2022 World Cup venue, rather than the general infrastructure being put in place for the tournament. It is an embarrassment for new Fifa president Gianni Infantino, whose organisation has made the protection human rights a part of its new statutes. Fifa’s head of sustainability Federio Addiechi responded to the findings by criticising Amnesty, claiming the charity had not produced its report quickly enough. He made no offer to investigate any of the findings. Mr Addiechi praised Qatar for its work in the area of human rights and said Fifa “cannot and indeed does not have the responsibility to solve the social problems in a host country of a Fifa World Cup.”
The Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it “appreciated” Amnesty’s efforts but did not acknowledge any of the evidence uncovered.
One of the 231 Amnesty interviewees, a metal worker from Nepal, said: “My life here is like a prison. We worked for many hours in the hot sun. When I first complained about my situation, soon after arriving in Qatar, the manager said ‘if you [want to] complain you can but there will be consequences. If you want to stay in Qatar be quiet and keep working’.
Amnesty’s findings come a week after Qatar’s Goverment was threatened with a formal investigatory ‘enquiry’ from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) if improvements in conditions for migrant workers are not made in the next 12 months.
The ILO, an agency of the United Nations, has given the Gulf country a deadline of March 2017 to institute serious labour reforms. In close to a century of history of the ILO, the enquiry procedure has been invoked only 13 times. More than 900 workers from India, Nepal and Bangladesh died in Qatar in 2012 and 2013, with the International Trade Union Confederation claiming the “real fatality rate” was more than 1,000 per year.
Fifa insisted when awarding the country the lucrative event that it would bring public exposure of a culture of chronic labour exploitation. Yet there is still no sign of the promised reforms to the kafala system. An initial commitment to expand the labour inspector force to 400 by the end of 2015 has been suspended by a year, to the end of this year.