Russian authorities want to use prison labor to drive down the costs of holding the 2018 World Cup.
The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service is backing a bid by Russian State Duma Deputy Alexander Khinshtein of the ruling United Russia party to allow prisoners to be taken from their camps to work at factories, with a focus on driving down the costs of building materials for World Cup projects.
“It will help in the sense that there will be the opportunity to acquire building materials for a lower price, lower than there is currently on the market,” Khinshtein said. “And apart from that, it’ll make it possible to get prisoners into work, which is very positive.”
Russian prison labor programs have faced allegations that prisoners are routinely underpaid or forced to work long hours.
In 2013, then-imprisoned Pussy Riot band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova went on hunger strike to protest against working conditions in her prison camp.
The prison service has been working with Khinshtein to draw up the proposals, which are to be submitted to the Federal Assembly soon, the lawmaker said.
The service declined to comment on the plan when contacted on Monday, but deputy director Alexander Rudy told the Kommersant business newspaper that his agency was eager to use prisoners for “tasks that, let us say, would not appeal to the ordinary citizen.”
FIFA UNDER FIRE
Workers’ rights are a hot-button issue for World Cup organizer FIFA, which is under pressure over the high rate of deaths among migrant workers in 2022 host nation Qatar.
When asked about the Russian plans to use prison labor, FIFA spokesperson Delia Fischer said: “We have not received any information on the below mentioned plans yet and as such cannot comment for the time being.”
Russia’s move toward prison labor comes as its World Cup budget of 637.6 billion rubles (US$12.7 billion) is under pressure with the ruble worth less than last year, making imported materials more expensive.
The ruble has recovered much of its lost value this year, but is still worth about one-third less against the US dollar than at the start of last year, before international sanctions and a drop in the price of oil dented the Russian economy.
Khinshtein said his plan to employ prisoners was “of course” an extension of the government’s policy of so-called import replacement, under which Russian-made production is expanded to fill gaps left by costly imports.
The workers would continue to live in their prison camps and would be transported to their worksites each day. A typical wage for a prisoner on such projects might be 15,000 rubles a month, Khinshtein said.
There are no plans as yet to employ prisoners on World Cup stadium construction sites, he added.
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