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World Cup: Human Rights Center Stage

With FIFA USA sites, AFL-CIO wants a labor rights focus

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by AFL-CIO on
Sep 16, 2021

With venue selection underway for the 2026 FIFA World Cup in North America, human rights organizations, including the AFL-CIO, are demanding that FIFA adhere to its promise to prioritize human and worker rights during the globally watched soccer tournament. In recent weeks, FIFA stopped responding to repeated outreach from the AFL-CIO and blocked cities bidding to host the 2026 games from publicly releasing their human rights plans.

The 2022 World Cup already has come under fire for reports of severe abuses and fatalities of migrant workers in Qatar, so it is incumbent upon FIFA to ensure the 2026 World Cup adheres to the highest standards of human rights.

“We are calling on FIFA to act in good faith and deliver on the commitment it made to fairness, safety and equality,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. “The World Cup is one of the most watched events across the globe, and presents an opportunity to lift up working people in the United States, Canada and Mexico. But if FIFA is serious about its commitment to human rights, worker protection and fair labor practices, the organization must engage with human rights stakeholders during the site visits, and must put in place, for itself and for host cities, robust and comprehensive human rights plans.”

In 2018, FIFA selected the United States, Canada and Mexico to jointly host the 2026 tournament. FIFA asked each of the 17 finalist U.S. cities to submit a human rights plan by June 2021 designed to address issues, including policing practices, human trafficking, workers’ rights, discrimination, disability rights and housing rights, in order to shape the final choice of 10 U.S. host cities. Despite promising that cities vying for the opportunity to host World Cup matches would have to publicly release human rights plans by July 1, 2021, FIFA ultimately blocked bidding cities from sharing their plans. 

From Sept. 15 to Sept. 23, FIFA officials intend to tour the following East Coast bid cities: Atlanta; Baltimore; Boston; Miami; Nashville, Tennessee; New York (including northern New Jersey); Orlando, Florida; Philadelphia; and Washington D.C. During FIFA’s site visits this month, its delegation apparently will focus only on reviewing stadiums, other facilities and infrastructure, without announcing any discussion of human rights plans for cities or setting up meetings with U.S. stakeholders concerned about human rights, including labor unions.    

Hany Khalil, executive director of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, said: “We hope that FIFA will do things differently when they visit Houston and other cities in a few weeks. The Houston bid committee took the input of labor and other human rights organizations seriously, and we worked very closely with them to formulate a robust Houston World Cup human rights plan. FIFA should assure us that they will be doing a serious evaluation of these plans, and that the strength of these plans will be a major factor in deciding which cities should host the 2026 World Cup games.”  

Bailey Brown, president of the Independent Supporters Council, an advocacy group representing the interests of thousands of soccer fans across North America, said: “Hosting the World Cup goes beyond soccer and is a representation of the communities that we, as supporters, come from. We are beyond concerned for the disregard and lack of transparency to the promised human rights stakeholder process. Supporters hold their clubs, leagues, and communities accountable to inclusive and safe environments, and this situation is no different. We call on FIFA to adhere to their own set protocol and to do so with transparency.”

Human rights organizations and the AFL-CIO also have called on FIFA to ensure construction and service companies that win contracts for the World Cup create good jobs and hire local residents. Communities must stand to benefit from the tremendous wealth they generate for FIFA in 2026.

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