Authorities in Qatar have opened an investigation into claims in a news report that Nepalese migrant laborers have endured "slave-like" conditions while building infrastructure that will help the country host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
An investigation by the Guardian newspaper alleged that thousands of Nepalese workers suffered extreme exploitation. It claimed that dozens had died over the summer of heart failure or workplace accidents.
On Thursday, the Qatari body responsible for managing tournament preparations said it was “appalled” by the allegations and vowed to investigate. It also said it was in discussion with international human rights organizations over labor standards that will be applied when World Cup construction projects get underway.
"Like everyone viewing the video and images, and reading the accompanying texts, we are appalled by the findings presented in the Guardian’s report," the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee said in a statement.
It added: "The health, safety, well-being and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 FIFA World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee."
The Guardian's report claimed that Nepalese migrant laborers in Qatar often worked in dangerous conditions with little or no pay.
"We were working on an empty stomach for 24 hours; 12 hours' work and then no food all night. When I complained, my manager assaulted me, kicked me out of the labor camp I lived in and refused to pay me anything. I had to beg for food from other workers," Ram Kumar Mahara told the newspaper.
The report includes allegations by young Nepalese workers that their passports and pay had been confiscated by employers. Thirty workers had gone to Nepal's embassy in Doha for help.
Documents provided to The Guardian by the Nepalese Embassy say 44 workers died this summer because of heart failure or accidents on the job. Some workers said employers denied them free water when they were working in temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Qatar's labor ministry told The Guardian it had strict rules governing working conditions and payment, and companies violating those would be subject to penalties and judicial action.
Many of the allegations of ill treatment come from workers building Lusail City, the planned site of a huge stadium, living quarters, a golf course and upscale shopping facilities.
The Qatari committee overseeing the World Cup preparations said it was treating the allegations with “utmost seriousness.”
“We have been informed that the relevant government authorities are conducting an investigation into the allegations,” it added.
The Qatar 2022 committee said it would work with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to address migrant issues.
Qatar was awarded the World Cup three years ago in what was considered a surprise decision that sparked concern over the heat that players and fans would endure during the games. Organizers said air conditioning would be employed at all stadiums to cool spectators and teams, but world soccer's governing body, FIFA, is considering a break with tradition by holding the tournament during the Northern Hemisphere's winter months.
FIFA, in a statement on the latest allegations, said it would discuss the issue during meetings with Qatari authorities in October.
Other World Cup hosts have also faced challenges over social conditions in recent months. Brazil, which hosts next year's tournament, saw a wave of protests over the summer against cost-of-living increases and alleged government corruption amid massive spending on hosting the soccer showcase.
Many were outraged by a proposed hike in transit fees. Demonstrators took to the streets again in smaller numbers earlier in September. The quadrennial tournament is to be staged in Russia in 2018.