Qatar’s top World Cup official on Tuesday said that more than 400 migrant workers died in labor accidents in the country in the years leading up to the tournament.
Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary general of Qatari Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, gave the figure of 400 to 500 in a British television interview when asked how many workers had died “doing work for the World Cup.”
The organizing committee said his response referred to “national statistics covering the period of 2014-2020 for all work-related fatalities” in Qatar “covering all sectors and nationalities.”
It said there were 414 worker deaths over the eight-year period.
Migrant workers make up more than 2.5 million of Qatar’s 2.9 million population and labor conditions have been strongly criticized — particularly on the huge construction projects that have transformed the tiny Gulf state in the past decade.
Qatar has never given precise figures for the number of deaths of foreign laborers, although it has denied claims by rights groups that thousands died.
Authorities have said that only 37 workers on World Cup projects have died — and only three in work-related accidents — and al-Thawadi repeated this figure in the interview.
“One death is a death too many. Plain and simple,” he said.
His comments brought new condemnation from rights groups.
“Over the last decade, thousands of workers have returned home in coffins, with no explanation given to their loved ones,” Amnesty International economic and social justice head Steve Cockburn said.
“Qatar’s extreme heat and grueling working conditions are likely to have contributed to hundreds of these deaths, but without full investigations the true scale of lives lost can never be known,” he said.
Under pressure from international unions, Qatar has undertaken reforms that have been praised.
It has dismantled its kafala labor system, which gave employers powerful rights over whether workers could leave their jobs or even the country.
It has also introduced a minimum wage of 1,000 riyals (US$266) and restricted hours in which workers can go out in extreme heat.
A series of ministers who have been through Qatar for the World Cup in the past few days, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have acknowledged the progress, but said that more must be done.
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