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Open letter to Canada Soccer on workers’ rights and the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Summary

On 18 November 2022, Amnesty International Canada sent Canada Soccer a letter regarding the football association's response to concerns raised about workers’ rights abuses connected to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

In the letter, Amnesty International Canada Secretary General Ketty Nivyabandi called on Canada Soccer to, by kickoff of Canada’s first match of the tournament, endorse Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and FairSquare’s call for FIFA to create a compensation fund for workers and families who experienced harms in the build-up to the Qatar World Cup.

To: Earl Cochrane
General Secretary, Canada Soccer
237 Metcalfe St.
Ottawa, ON, K2P 1R2

From: Ketty Nivyabandi
Secretary General, Amnesty International Canadian Section (English Speaking)
312 Laurier Ave. E
Ottawa, ON, K1N 1H9

18 November 2022

Dear Canada Soccer:

Congratulations on the Canadian national men’s team’s return to the FIFA World Cup after a 36-year absence. Competing internationally at the highest level in the world’s most popular sport takes extraordinary courage, perseverance, and leadership. Canada Soccer deserves credit for fielding a squad whose thrilling play and rich cultural diversity has already ignited the imagination of the next generation of Canadian sports leaders.

However, Canada Soccer’s leadership should not be limited to the pitch or the boardroom. Sports fans across the country are looking to our national soccer federation to not to shy away from addressing the serious, widespread harms experienced by those who made this World Cup a reality. 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.

When FIFA awarded Qatar the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, there were inherent and foreseeable risks in holding the tournament in Qatar due to its poor human rights record, heavy reliance on migrant workers, and an exploitative labour system.[i]  Amnesty International has documented that thousands of workers, predominantly from South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa, have been subjected to labour abuses, abysmally low pay, and other exploitation.[ii] Qatar’s ‘Kafala’ system of sponsorship-based employment legally bound migrant workers to their employers, preventing them from changing jobs or leaving the country without their employer’s permission.[iii] Moreover, the deaths of thousands of migrant workers – most purportedly connected to extreme heat, including on World Cup-related projects – remain uninvestigated.[iv]

Despite recent changes to Qatari labour law, migrant workers still experience delayed or unpaid wages, denial of rest days, unsafe working conditions, barriers to changing jobs, and limited access to justice.[v] On top of the country’s labour record, homosexuality is outlawed in Qatar – for example, sexual acts between men are punishable by a prison sentence of up to seven years – and Qatari law continues to treat women as second-class citizens in employment, education, and health care.[vi]

‘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.’

Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada

Your leadership is aware of these concerns. As Canada Soccer acknowledged in its October 28 statement on “Workers’ Rights and Inclusivity in Qatar,” representatives from the Canadian federation met in July with members of Amnesty International’s global Migrant Labour working group to discuss Qatar’s human rights record. However, Canada Soccer has apparently failed to follow up, raising questions about your stated commitment to upholding Canada’s “global reputation as a defender of human and LGBTQ2S rights.” According to May Romanos and Ella Knight, two researchers with Amnesty International’s Migrant Labour working group:          

As part of a wider outreach targeting all football associations, Amnesty and other organisations reached out and wrote to Canada Soccer urging them to support the call for a remedy for workers and use their leverage to push FIFA to commit to such a programme. However, 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.

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. As a result, Amnesty International Canada urges your leadership to take the following steps by 2 pm ET on 23 November – kickoff time for the Canadian men’s team’s first match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup:

  • Support Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and FairSquare’s joint call for FIFA to create a USD$440-million Workers Compensation Fund for labourers and families who suffered harms in the lead-up to the Qatar World Cup. By endorsing a Workers Compensation Fund, you would join at least a dozen other leading football federations, including the English Football Association, the French Football Federation, the Royal Dutch Football Association, and US Soccer, calling for justice.
  • Commit to meeting with Amnesty International representatives in the next 30 days to 1) discuss our concerns about Canada Soccer’s response to human rights violations connected to the Qatar World Cup; and 2) 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, which Canada will co-host.

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.

To close, I would like to point to Canada Soccer’s Values statement, which guides your federation’s approach and activities (capitalizations are Canada Soccer’s):

We LEAD with unwavering INTEGRITY. HONESTY guides our actions. Our decisions are FAIR and ETHICAL. We thrive with EXCELLENCE. Our PASSION fuels our performance on and off the field of play. We are ACCOUNTABLE to our stakeholders. TRANSPARENCY directs our communication. We RESPECT and INCLUDE all.

We ask that you consider your own wise words as you reflect on your next steps. Leaders check their performance against their goals, and correct course if necessary. That is what Canada Soccer expects of its players and coaches, and it is what Canadians demand of you.

Sincerely,

Ketty Nivyabandi,
Secretary General,
Amnesty International Canadian Section (English Speaking)


[i] Amnesty International, “FIFA: Time to compensate migrant workers in Qatar,” May 21, 2022.

[ii] Amnesty International, “Callemard: Infantino’s call to ‘focus on the football’ a crass abdication of FIFA’s accountability for migrant worker abuses,” November 14, 2022.

[iii] Amnesty International, “FIFA: Time to compensate migrant workers in Qatar,” May 21, 2022.https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2022/05/fifa-time-to-compensate-migrant-workers-in-qatar/

[iv] Amnesty International: “Qatar: Labour reform unfinished and compensation still owed as World Cup looms,” October 20, 2022.

[v] Amnesty International, “Qatar: Labour reform unfinished and compensation still owed as World Cup looms,” October 20, 2022.

[vi]Amnesty International, “Everything you need to know about human rights in Qatar,” March 28, 2022.