A Dutch trade union has issued summons to the Zurich-based world football governing body, FIFA, to improve worker conditions in Qatar - that was awarded the right to host the football World Cup in 2022 - or risk being sued in a Swiss court.
On Monday, The Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV) called on FIFA to acknowledge that it had made a mistake in awarding the World Cup to Qatar without requiring the abolishment of the “kafala” system.
The system requires all foreign workers in Qatar, and other Gulf countries, to be sponsored by a local employer. The employer reserves the right to withdraw the sponsorship at any time, forcing the worker to leave the country.
The employer can also refuse to allow migrant workers to leave by denying them the permission needed for an exit visa. The kafala system has been criticised as means for stifling worker grievances and forcing them to accept working conditions that fall below international standards.
“The case will be filed in the Zurich Commercial Court and will be a pioneering one setting a precedent,” Martin Hablützel of the Swiss law firm Schadenanwaelte AG, that will be handling the case for FNV, told swissinfo.ch.
According to Hablützel, this is technically possible due to a 2011 change in law that allows recognised trade unions to file cases on behalf of their members. In addition, the summons also cites the Lugano Convention that states that the domicile of the defendant - in this case FIFA - determines where they can be sued.
This is not the first time the Dutch Trade Union has tried hold to FIFA to account in Switzerland. In May 2015, FNV along with Swiss-based Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) submitted a written complaint against FIFA for human rights violations of migrant workers to the Swiss National Contact Point of the OECD. This body serves as mediator between aggrieved groups and Swiss-based organisations and companies.
While the FNV will be filing the case on behalf of all migrant workers, a Bangladeshi worker Nadim Shariful Alam, will also be a separate plaintiff in the case against FIFA. Alam paid a Bangladeshi recruitment agency around $4,400 (CHF4,310) to work for a Qatari company involved in building infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.
He was engaged in August 2014 and his passport was confiscated. It was only returned to him after he was fired in January 2016. Alam is claiming CHF 5,310.50 in damages as well as compensation of CHF5,000 plus 5% interest since 23 August 2014.
FIFA has three weeks to respond to the summons and reach an agreement to the satisfaction of all parties. Failing this, the case will be brought to the Zurich Commercial Court.