May 26 – A report by Britain’s Guardian newspaper claims FIFA knew about North Korean workers being employed in dire conditions in the construction of a 2018 World Cup site in St Petersburg.
Until now, Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organisers have been the centre of attention when it comes to human rights but the Guardian says there have been abuses of migrant workers in Russia.
The paper quotes a leaked letter to the presidents of four Nordic football associations in which Infantino is reported to have acknowledged that North Koreans working on the Zenit Arena have been held in “often appalling” conditions.
Infantino’s letter reportedly admits monitoring teams found “strong evidence” in September and November that North Korean workers were being used at the stadium.
Last spring, Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the Building and Wood Worker’s International, the international trade union who were part of a joint inspection team with FIFA, said the world governing body had to act after it was reported that some workers were being housed in storage containers with no heating, forced to work 16-hour shifts and with most of their pay apparently being sent directly back to the totalitarian regime in North Korea. The Norwegian investigative football magazine Josimar has subsequently highlighted the terrible conditions at the St Petersburg site.
The presidents of the Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic FAs wrote to Infantino raising their concerns and in his reply dated Monday 22, according to the Guardian, Infantino wrote: “FIFA is aware of and firmly condemns the often appalling labour conditions under which North Korean workers are employed in various countries around the world.”
The Guardian said he had acknowledged that an inspection team did find “strong evidence for the presence of North Korean workers on the construction site in St Petersburg” on a visit in November. “The issues found were subsequently raised with the respective company and with the general contractor,” Infantino wrote.
In a statement, FIFA said it continues to monitor all World Cup construction in Russia, adding that no further evidence has been found of North Korean workers on any sites. “These activities are part of a broader effort by FIFA to systematise and enhance its activities to ensure respect for human rights throughout its operations,” the statement read.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the human rights allegations as scaremongering on a par with the criticism levelled at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014.
“History is repeating itself, an information campaign just like regarding the Sochi Olympics is underway,” Zakharova was quoted as saying.
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