Unsporting Conduct

Worldwide millions of people contribute to the sport industry and international sport events as the World Cup Soccer and the Olympic Games. Under which circumstances do these employees do their job – in Cambodia, Qatar and the Netherlands?

Unsporting Conduct
Foto: All Over Press

CAMBODIA

“GOING TO BED HUNGRY”
SAMNANG (26), STITCHES SPORT SHIRTS FOR ADIDAS

Almost every day Samnang and her children from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, eat a small amount of rice and vegetables. “But it isn’t enough,” Samnang tells. “Mostly we go to bed hungry.” Except the first days after payday, then she gets a meal from her boss.
In the sweatshop of her employer, articles for Adidas are being produced. Here Samnang stitches football shirts, 6 days a week, for at least 10 hours a day. With a salary of 112 euro a month textile workers can not live in Cambodia, so a lot of workers make a lot of overtime. Working weeks of 86 hours are no exception. But even then a lot of textile workers go to bed hungry. More than 15 percent of them is underweight, according to research, and almost the half of the workers suffer from anemia. Malnutrition and bad working conditions cause to mass faintings in the textile industry.

READ: WORK TIL YOU FAINT

Suppliers of Adidas has to comply with a code of conduct for factory working conditions, but Samnang hardly notices this. “Sometimes people from Europe or the United States visites the factory. They talk to our employer, but never ask questions to the workers. Our supervisor has forbidden us to say anything to the visitors. In the 3 years I’ve been working here, nothing has improved.”
Adidas allows trade unions within the textile industry, but according to Samnang that’s a charade. “The only trade union is controlled by our employer. That union is doing everything he tells it to do. Of course I prefer a real trade union, but workers are to scared to unite.”

QATAR

“WORKING 46 HOURS WITHOUT A BREAK”
KIRAN (32), NEPALESE CONSTRUCTING WORKER IN QATAR

After years of working as a constructing worker in Qatar, Kiran just returned to his wife and two children in Nepal. He’s glad to be back and will not return to the Gulf state. In Qatar he was working at hotels, bridges and parking lots, which are already being build for the World Cup Soccer in 2022. With more than 350,000 migrant workers, Nepal is one of the biggest “suppliers” of employees to the sport event. At the moment 1,4 million migrant workers are in some way contributing to the World Cup in Qatar.
In the Gulf state, Kiran was working for a big constructing company that accomodates their workers in labor camps. “In that camp I shared a dirty room with 16 other employees,” he says. “There was only one bathroom for 32 people. But that was not the biggest problem, the heat was. In the building the temperature often rised to 40 degrees Celsius or more and there was no airconditioning or fan. People dried up and had to go to the hospital, but no one could afford that and the company did not pay for medical suspenses.”

READ: WORLD CUP IN RUSSIA

Beside housing, the working conditions for migrants in Qatar are very poor. “In my first 9 months in Qatar I worked 14 hours 7 days a week, without a day off. Once I even worked 46 hours without a break.” On the construction site safety has no priority at all. In the first 4 years after FIFA allocated the World Cup 2022 to Qatar, 400 Nepalese workers were killed through work accidents and exhaustion. The international trade union ITUC estimates that at least 4,000 migrant workers will die before the World Cup starts.
Complaining about the circumstances is risky, Kiran experienced. “I told my supervisor I was not happy with the long working hours. When I returned to the labor camp that day, an employee of the company was waiting for me with a return ticket to Nepal.” Kiran went to the police, who helped him to stay at the construction company. “But the housing nor working conditions improved.”

THE NETHERLANDS

“NO NEED TO COMPLAIN”
MEINDERT JANSEN (65), TEAMMANAGER AT TENCATE, PRODUCER OF ARTIFICIAL GRASS SPORT FIELDS

TenCate is a major player in the world of artificial grass. It delivers sport fields to international sport events like the World Cup Hockey and soccer clubs worldwide. In the near future the Dutch company wants to make the fields for the World Cup Soccer, if FIFA decides to play on artificial grass.
At TenCate the working conditions are very good, tells teammanager Meindert Jansen (65), who works in the weaving mill where the so called backing, the backside of the grass, is made. “Traditionally TenCate is a very social company. Employees do have nothing or little to complain. In this region of the Netherlands people say: when you work for TenCate, then you’re lucky.”
The sport fields are made according to a tight code of conduct regarding environment and workers, where suppliers from the Netherlands and abroad have to comply with. An independent supervisor controls the working conditions of the suppliers. “TenCate doesn’t want to be associated with abusive situations like the collapsing of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, where more than 1,000 workers died.”

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The contrast between the working conditions at TenCate and those in Russia (World Cup Soccer 2018), Rio de Janeiro (Olympic Games 2016) and especially Qatar (World Cup Soccer 2022), are huge, Jansen realises. “The way workers are treated over there, is unbelievable. All people worldwide making a contribution to a sports event should work under the same conditions as we do in Western Europe.”
Jansen is supporting action against poor labor conditions in other parts of the world. “My trade union in the Netherlands, FNV, is criticizing FIFA because of the working conditions in Qatar. It’s good to increase the pressure on Qatar and FIFA to improve the situation for migrant workers. If this will have no or to little effect, I personally hope that the Dutch national team boycots the World Cup.”

QATAR

“IMPRISONED LIKE A SLAVE”
JAGO (34), FILIPINO CONSTRUCTING WORKER IN QATAR

“I want to earn enough money in Qatar so I can send my children to school in the Philippines. That would be possible according to the salary, 291 euros a month, that is mentioned in the contract I signed in my home country. According to this contract I also would receive a food allowance.”
When Jago arrived in Qatar at the end of 2011 his passport was immediately confiscated by his employer. In Qatar this is a common practice. “Without permission of the employer a migrant worker can not change jobs or leave the country,” Jago explains. By this so called “Kafala system” the employer has got a lot of power over his employee. Demonstrating, striking or complaining about the working conditions can lead to deportation from Qatar or not returning of the passport, which entails that migrant workers are “imprisoned” in Qatar for years without income.

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According to his contract, Jago would be working as a architectural designer in Qatar, but he was employed as a construction worker. “I’m working 60 hours a week for a salary that is lower than promised. My food allowance stopped after a short time. And when I get sick for 1 day, my employer withdraws 2 days of salary.”
The Filipino wants to return to his home country, but that’s impossible. “I handed over my letter of dismissal to my boss, but he threw it in the dustbin and said I would not get my passport back. So now I’m imprisoned like a slave.”

The names of Kiran, Samnang and Jago are fictive due to their safety.

Bart Speleers

Bart Speleers

This article is by Bart Speleers.

Thanks to Dutch trade union FNV, ITUC, Workers Rights Consortium, Sport Executive.