How many migrant workers have died in Qatar? What we know about the human cost of the 2022 World Cup | World Cup 2022

The deaths of migrant workers in Qatar in the build-up to this year’s World Cup have drawn criticism across the world. While the tournament’s organizers put the official count at 40, estimates by the Guardian put the figure in the thousands. Here we explore the key questions around an issue that has tarnished the World Cup for many fans.

Why is this World Cup so controversial?

World soccer’s governing body, Fifa, awarded Qatar – a country slightly smaller than Connecticut with scant soccer pedigree – the tournament in December 2010 in a bidding process that, according to American authorities, was riddled with corruption. The shock decision sparked a frenzy of construction in the wealthy nation, which this year became the planet’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

The high profile of the tournament has drawn attention to Qatar’s dubious human rights record, including its hostility towards LGBT people, and the dangerous and exploitative conditions faced by the vast numbers of migrant workers who have built the infrastructure.

“Migrant workers were indispensable to making the World Cup 2022 possible, but it has come at great cost for many migrant workers and their families who not only made personal sacrifices, but also faced widespread wage theft, injuries, and thousands of unexplained deaths,” said Rothna Begum, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

How many migrant workers are in Qatar and where do they come from?

The population of Qatar is about three million, roughly 88% of whom are foreign citizens. The migrant workforce is estimated at two million, comprising 95% of the labor force. About a million people are employed in construction and another 100,000 are domestic workers. Mostly men, a large percentage come from the Philippines and south Asian countries including India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

What are they building?

The first Middle Eastern country to host the World Cup finals, Qatar has spent anywhere from $220bn-$300bn on infrastructure projects as it uses the globe’s biggest sporting event as a catalyst for nation-building.

At a cost of $6.5bn, Qatar has built seven new stadiums for the tournament and renovated an eighth. Other construction projects have included major upgrades to public transport and roads, and new skyscrapers, hotels and housing, as well as Lusail, a new city that will host the final.

What is the latest death toll?

The official count among workers on World Cup sites is 37 non-work related deaths and only three from work-related accidents but many believe that is a vast undercount.

The problem is that it is hard to associate a firm figure with the tournament and to assess how many deaths were preventable given the lack of available information. Fifa and the Qatari organizers have sought to distance World Cup-related construction from more general projects, though it is likely that many of these would not have been commissioned without the tournament-inspired boom. And they have been on tight deadlines to be ready for the influx of an estimated 1.2 million soccer fans.

Overall, 15,021 non-Qataris died in the country between 2010 and 2019, according to the government. A Guardian analysis in February 2021 found that more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since the award of the tournament. The death records were not categorised by occupation or place of work. The government has said that 30,000 foreign laborers were employed to build World Cup stadiums.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) found that in 2020, 50 people suffered work-related deaths, 500 were seriously injured, and 37,600 sustained mild to moderate injuries.

How are workers dying?

Average high temperatures in Qatar exceed 100F (37.7C) for five months of the year. Though the tournament was moved from summer to winter for the safety and comfort of players, officials and fans, workers are at risk of accidents, heat-related illnesses and other ailments related to the physical and mental strains of working long hours in extreme heat. Suicide is also a concern. Construction workers frequently live in squalid conditions that stand in stark contrast with the opulence of many of the facilities they build.

The Qatari government has argued that “the mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population.” But statistics show that a large number of young or middle-aged men from Nepal, who would have undergone health checks before being allowed to enter Qatar, have died from heart problems.

Following on from reporting by the Guardian’s Pete Pattisson, an Amnesty International report from 2021 accused Qatar of “routinely [issuing] death certificates for migrant workers without conducting adequate investigations, instead attributing deaths to ‘natural causes’ or vaguely defined cardiac failures” – making it impossible for bereaved families to claim compensation.

The organization found that as many of 70% of migrant deaths are classified imprecisely, with Guardian data suggesting that 69% of deaths among Indian, Nepali and Bangladeshi workers have been categorised as natural. The ILO report states that falls from height and road traffic accidents were the leading causes of severe injuries.

In 2021 the Guardian highlighted the deaths of workers such as Gangaram Mandal, a laborer from Nepal who came to Qatar in 2018 in order to support his wife and seven daughters. He borrowed money to pay a recruitment fee then earned the equivalent of a dollar a day. After two years he fell ill at the end of a shift during the summer. His death was classed as “heart failure, natural causes”.

What have the Qatari authorities done?

The country has introduced labor law reforms in the past five years, though critics charge that these do not go far enough to protect workers and that enforcement is patchy. “Thousands of workers across all projects are still facing issues such as delayed or unpaid wages, denial of rest days, unsafe working conditions, barriers to changing jobs, and limited access to justice, while the deaths of thousands of workers remain uninvestigated,” according to Amnesty. A minimum wage for all workers equivalent to about $275 a month came into force in 2021.

What have the soccer authorities said?

Teams such as Denmark and the Netherlands have been far more vocal in their criticism of working conditions and human rights than Fifa, which has banned players from wearing “OneLove” rainbow armbands. Shortly before the tournament the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, urged teams to “focus on the football”.

Infantino later claimed Fifa deserved credit for influencing Qatar to improve standards, including abolishing its abusive “kafala” worker sponsorship system, and said that criticism of the country reeked of Western hypocrisy.

Concerns about LGBT rights, forced labor and unsafe conditions also marred the previous World Cup, in Russia in 2018. A report by the Building and Wood Workers’ International union group found that 21 construction workers died building stadiums in Russia, mostly as a result of falls from heights or being struck by falling equipment.

From taxi drivers to security guards: the migrant workers in Qatar who football fans might meet | World Cup 2022

It is a World Cup of superlatives: the most expensive, the most controversial – and it will be delivered by perhaps the most diverse workforce.

During your stay you in Qatar, you are likely to interact with more nationalities than there are teams in the World Cup. That begins the moment you step off the plane.

As you walk through Doha’s immaculate Hamad International airport almost everyone you meet – from cleaners in the toilets and security guards on patrol, to helpers guiding you through immigration – will be a migrant worker, as 95% of Qatar’s working population is from overseas.

Step outside and grab a taxi to your hotel, and you may meet someone like Saeed from Pakistan. Just be sure that he is alert.

“I’m so tired. I work 15, 16, 18 hours a day. What to do? We need to make money, so we have to work,” he says.

A Doha taxi
Taxi drivers work long hours to Composite: Guardian Design/Getty Images/AFP

He earns between 100 and 300 rials (£23-£70) a day, but that gets whittled away by the fee he has to pay to rent the car, along with petrol, insurance and the annual cost of his visa. Much of what he earns is sent home to his wife and three young children, who he has not seen for almost two years. “I came here to support my family. If I don’t send them money, they don’t eat,” he says. “I miss them so much, but I’m happy because I can help them.”

Saeed is hopeful business will pick up during the World Cup. “It’s good for everyone. People are coming from lots of countries,” he says.

As Saeed drops you at your hotel, you may not notice the security guard standing discreetly at the entrance, but if you come out to explore 12 hours later, John may still be there. Such long shifts are not unusual in hotels here, especially among sub-contracted security companies, like the one he works for.

“In Uganda the income is not good so I decided to come to Qatar to look for the green pasture,” says John. He is yet to find it.

Like the vast majority of low-wage workers in Qatar, John had to pay an agent in his own country for his job. It cost him about £1,125, which he paid for with a loan that came with a 10% interest rate. He used the land his family live on as security for the loan.

“You work for the debt, the debt does not go, the debt is growing … remember the whole family is on your land; what if they take the land?”

John says he earns about 1,700 rials a month including overtime pay. “If you compare the work and the money, it is not enough. I feel bad, but there’s nothing to do. You must work if you are looking for greener pastures.”

Shafiq is also a security guard at one of Doha’s top hotels, but he has had a different experience. Unlike John, he was recruited from Bangladesh directly by the hotel, at no cost. He works long hours but they are within the legal limit, and he knows it. “Our hotel teaches us about our rights,” he says.

He pulls out his phone and proudly shows a photo of his twin sons, born a couple of months ago. Asked if he has been home to see them, he shakes his head, eyes brimming with tears, “My mother suffered a stroke recently and so I need to stay here to earn enough money for her treatment,” he says.

A food delivery rider on a scooter.
Many food delivery drivers have been brought to Qatar by supply companies as subcontracted workers. Composite: Guardian Design/Reuters/Getty Images

With thousands of fans put up in apartments, and even modified shipping containers, demand for food delivery services will soar, which should come as good news for Abbas, who is from Pakistan.

Before the World Cup, he was lucky to earn 60 rials in a 14-hour day. Much of that time was spent waiting for orders.

The company he works for is not his employer. Instead, he is hired by what is called a “supply company” and sent out to work for the delivery firm. As such, he’s the last to get an order, and is usually dispatched to the most remote locations.

“Supply companies have brought a lot of workers over for the World Cup. There are too many riders and not enough orders,” says Abbas. “Two of my friends have already gone back. I’ll only stay if I can get a better job.”

If you would prefer to head out for a meal, Doha’s metro system will get you there. It is clean, efficient and staffed by polite, eager people. They are clearly proud of their role, but also a little nervous.

A metro worker.
During the tournament, Doha’s metro will be staffed by a combination of regular workers and ‘volunteers’. Composite: Guardian Design/Getty Images/AFP

“The only thing you can do is stay sane and stay alive! The Arab Cup [held a year ago] was crazy, a lot of noise and people falling over. The World Cup will be even more,” says Gloria from the Philippines.

Throughout the World Cup, regular staff like Gloria will be supported by thousands of “volunteers”, like Mohan. They have been hired for three months, just for the World Cup, and are paid a small salary. Mohan, who is from India, is happy with the deal because he hopes to stay on afterwards. “My main intention is to get a permanent job over here,” he says, admitting he is job hunting on his days off.

“It will be challenging to manage the crowd. I like these challenges and I’m eager to work in this World Cup,” he says. Asked if he likes football, he says, “I play football but I like cricket the most.” Only in Qatar would football’s global showcase be delivered with the help of an army of cricket lovers.

Construction workers
Thousands of construction workers have been sent home as building projects pause during the World Cup. Composite: Guardian Design/AP/Getty Images

There is one group of workers you may not see much of: the low-wage construction labourers who built the airport you arrived at, the roads you drive along and the hotel you stay in. Much construction has been put on hold for six months due to the World Cup and thousands of workers, like Baburam, have been sent home.

Back in Nepal, he says he is now in a worse condition than when he left for Qatar because he was sent back before he was able to repay his recruitment debt. “The workers are not getting any benefits. They are being sent home because of the World Cup,” says Baburam. “Our family’s situation was already bad and now its even worse. Whatever we had before we’ve lost.”

* All names have been changed to protect workers’ identities.

Ten years of hurt: how the Guardian reported Qatar’s World Cup working conditions | Qatar

In 2013, after the announcement in 2010 that the tiny but enormously wealthy Gulf state of Qatar would host the Fifa 2022 Football World Cup, the Nepal-based Guardian journalist Pete Pattisson made the first of many trips to Kathmandu’s airport in Nepal to count coffins.

For months, Pattisson traced the bodies of dozens of migrant workers repatriated from Qatar back to their families to try to establish why they never made it home alive. It was the start of 10 years of reporting by the Guardian into the sometimes brutal conditions faced by hundreds of thousands of migrant workers tasked with building Qatar’s state-of-the-art stadiums, and the roads, hotels and infrastructure needed to host one of the biggest sporting events on Earth.

With just days to go to first kick-off, we look back at how migrant rights became centre stage in arguably the most controversial World Cup in the history of the tournament.

September 2013
Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’

The Guardian publishes a comprehensive investigation into worker deaths and abuse in Qatar, which finds that dozens of workers had died and others were suffering appalling labour abuses, which in some case could amount to forced labour, a form of modern slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Workers were being forced to live in unsanitary and overcrowded accommodation and some said that they were not being paid and were unable to leave and return home. In response, the Qatari labour ministry says it has strict rules governing working in the heat, the provision of labour and the prompt payment of salaries. The Supreme Committee, the body tasked with organising the World Cup, told the Guardian it was “deeply concerned” with the allegations and had been told the government authorities were conducting an investigation

September 2013
Qatar under pressure over migrant labour abuse

The Guardian reports that Qatar is facing growing international pressure to act against the rising death toll of migrant workers preparing for the 2022 World Cup, as unions warned another 4,000 people could die in the Gulf emirate before a ball is kicked. Fifa calls for an urgent enquiry and says “very concerned about the reports presented by the media regarding labour rights’ abuses and the conditions for construction workers”. A spokesman for Qatar’s World Cup organisers says they are “appalled” by the Guardian revelations and there is “no excuse” for the maltreatment of workers.

Pete Pattisson Qatar story, 25 September 2013
Photograph: the Guardian

May 2014
Qatar promises to reform labour laws after outcry over ‘World Cup slaves’

After the Guardian’s 2013 investigation, Qatari officials commit to sweeping labour reforms, including replacing the country’s kafala sponsorship system, which tethers workers to a single employer and prevents them from leaving their job or the country without permission.

July 2014
Trapped in Qatar: the migrants who helped build the ‘tower of football’

As construction on the World Cup stadiums begins, the Guardian returns to the Qatar capital, Doha, and reports that workers assigned to build the “Aspire” football complex – housing the headquarters of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy – claim they were not paid for months. In response to the allegations, Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organising committee says it is “heavily dismayed” to hear of the allegations and “will continue to press for a speedy and fair conclusion to all cases”.

July 2014
Qatar World Cup stadium workers earn as little as 45p an hour

A follow-up investigation finds that migrant workers building the first stadium for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup say they had been earning as little as 45p an hour. The pay rate appeared to be in breach of the tournament organisers’ own worker welfare rules and despite the Gulf kingdom spending £134bn on infrastructure in the lead-up to the competition.

November 2014
Qatar’s ambitious future driven on by North Korean ‘forced labour’

The Guardian finds North Korean labourers working on large construction projects in conditions that may amount to forced labour. The investigation suggests the workers may receive as little as 10% of their salary during the three years they typically work in Qatar, with the remainder expropriated by a chain of North Korean state-run bodies, overseen by Office 39, a department that reportedly controls a fund to bankroll Kim Jong-un’s lifestyle. The Qatari authorities say that there are 2,800 North Korean guest workers registered in Qatar and they have no recorded complaints about their payment or treatment. “Qatar is determined to continually improve labour conditions for all who work in the country, and will continue to work with NGOs, businesses and other governments to achieve this,” it says in a statement.

Pete Pattisson Qatar story, 7 November 2014
Photograph: the Guardian

April 2016
Balfour Beatty and Interserve accused of migrant worker labour abuses in Qatar

The Guardian reveals claims of labour abuses among subsidiaries of leading British construction firms. Alleged abuses include erratic or reduced payment of wages, passport confiscation, workers entering employment with high levels of debt bondage and pay levels below those agreed when workers were recruited in their home countries. The workers spoke of a culture of fear and intimidation, with threats of arrest or deportation. Both companies say they are working within the parameters of Qatari law and rigorously monitor their labour supply companies to ensure good practice.

November 2018
£40 a week to build the World Cup stadiums

A migrant worker at the construction site for the Al Rayyan stadium exactly four years before the start of the World Cup
A migrant worker at the construction site for the Al-Rayyan stadium exactly four years before the start of the World Cup. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

The Guardian finds World Cup stadium workers being paid £5 a day – a £650 a month basic salary for eight hours of work a day, six days a week. The investigation also uncovered the plight of those who say they had paid agents for visas, but whose jobs and sponsors proved to be a mirage. The supreme committee says its contractors had been instructed to pay the advisory minimum wage and after an investigation, any problems with payment had been rectified.

October 2019
Revealed: hundreds of migrant workers dying of heat stress in Qatar each year

Despite bid committee chief executive Hassan Al-Thawadi saying in 2010 that “heat is not and will not be an issue”, the Guardian reveals that hundreds of thousands of migrant workers toiled in temperatures of up to 45C for up to 10 hours a day, potentially leading to the deaths of hundreds of workers. An analysis of weather conditions finds that it is unsafe to work outside at all in Qatar. A government spokesperson acknowledges that heat stress was challenging but says the government has introduced legislation to protect workers, as well as new national heat stress guidance.

Pete Pattisson Qatar story, 1 October 2019
Photograph: the Guardian

August 2020
Qatar has failed to explain up to 70% of migrant worker deaths in past 10 years – Amnesty

The coffins of Phatwari Chaudhari and Asharam Tharu outside Kathmandu Airport, two of five Nepalese migrant workers run over and killed by a vehicle in the Lusail City development in 2013
The coffins of Phatwari Chaudhari and Asharam Tharu outside Kathmandu airport, two of five Nepalese migrant workers run over and killed by a vehicle in Qatar’s Lusail City development in 2013. Photograph: Peter Pattisson

The human rights organisation says the majority of migrant worker deaths in Qatar are attributed to “natural causes”, cardiac or respiratory failure; classifications which are “meaningless” without the underlying cause of death explained, according to one expert cited. Amnesty says intense heat and humidity exposure is likely to be a significant factor and has urged the Qatari authorities to put in place better protections for workers. A government spokesperson says: “Qatar remains steadfast in its commitment to labour reform and will not be thrown off course by any organisation that seeks to discredit the progress we have made.”

September 2020
New labour law ends Qatar’s exploitative kafala system

Qatar finally launches sweeping reforms to its labour laws, ending kafala and introducing a “non-discriminatory minimum wage”, the first in the Middle East. The reforms are widely lauded by the ILO and cautiously welcomed by human rights groups.

February 2021
Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since World Cup awarded

Latha Bollapally, holds a picture of her husband, Madhu Bollapally, 43, who died suddenly in Qatar of ‘natural causes’.
Latha Bollapally, holds a picture of her husband, Madhu Bollapally, 43, who died suddenly in Qatar of ‘natural causes’. Photograph: Kailash Nirmal

A multi-country investigation by the Guardian finds at least 6,500 workers from south Asia have died in Qatar in the 10 years since it was awarded the right to host the World Cup. The findings expose Qatar’s failure to protect its 2 million-strong migrant workforce, or even investigate the causes of the apparently high death rate among the largely young workers. The Qatar government says that the number of deaths – which it does not dispute – is proportionate to the size of the migrant workforce and that the figures include white-collar workers who have died naturally after living in Qatar for many years. It also says that only 20% of migrants from the countries in question are employed in construction, and that work-related deaths in this sector accounted for fewer than 10% of fatalities within this group.

November 2021
‘We have fallen into a trap’: Qatar’s World Cup dream is a nightmare for hotel staff

A gardener (not interviewed for the story) at a luxury hotel near Doha, Qatar.
A gardener (not interviewed for the story) at a luxury hotel near Doha, Qatar. Photograph: Pete Pattisson

A year before the first match is due to be played, the Guardian exposes allegations of abusive working conditions in hotels included in Fifa’s hospitality packages. A Qatari official said Qatar had a zero-tolerance approach towards violating companies, issuing harsh penalties that included fines and prison sentences.

March 2022
Revealed: migrant workers in Qatar forced to pay billions in recruitment fees

We reveal how low-wage migrant workers have been forced to pay billions of dollars in recruitment fees to secure their jobs in World Cup host nation Qatar over the past decade. The Qatar government says companies involved in illegal recruitment practices have been severely punished and that 24 recruitment agencies were shut down and had their licences revoked for breaking Qatar’s laws.

April 2022
‘No one should suffer like me’: families of Qatar’s dead migrant workers left with nothing

Laduwati Yadav holds a photo of her husband, Gangaram Mandal, who died suddenly hours after the end of his shift as a labourer in Qatar.
Laduwati Yadav holds a photo of her husband, Gangaram Mandal, who died suddenly hours after the end of his shift as a labourer in Qatar. Photograph: Pete Pattisson

The Guardian travels across the southern plains of Nepal to investigate how families of workers who died in Qatar are left in debt and without compensation after a failure to investigate deaths. A spokesperson for the Qatar government says that companies in Qatar are legally required to compensate the families of all workers who lose their lives in a work-related incident. The supreme committee organising the World Cup in Qatar says in a statement that its commitment to the, “health, safety and dignity of all workers employed on our projects has remained steadfast and unwavering.”

September 2022
Migrant workers in Qatar left in debt after being ordered home before World Cup starts

With only months to go before the start of the tournament, the Guardian’s Pete Pattisson travels again to Qatar to report on how migrant workers say they are being ordered home before the World Cup starts, leaving them in debt and without work. In a statement, a Qatari official says there is no government requirement for companies to repatriate employees or reduce their workforce before the World Cup.

November 2022
Security guards at Doha World Cup park claim they are paid just 35p an hour

On the eve of the tournament, security guards at the heart of World Cup festivities claim they are paid just 35p an hour, appear to only get one day off a month and are housed in dirty camps on the edge of the desert. In response, the Qatari government says that extensive action has been taken to combat exploitative labour practices and when violations are recorded, corrective action is taken and offending companies penalised. The Al Nasr Star Group, which employs the security guards, confirms the guards work 12-hour shifts but say they get two hours’ break each day and one day off a week.

Security guards at Doha World Cup park claim they are paid just 35p an hour | Workers’ rights

Migrant workers employed as security guards in a huge park that will be at the heart of Qatar’s World Cup festivities appear to be being paid as little as 35 pence an hour.

The men are stationed across Al Bidda Park, a pristine green space adjoining the Fifa Fan Festival. Throughout the tournament Al Bidda Park will be packed with football fans enjoying the sweeping lawns, shaded picnic spots and views over Doha. The guards interviewed are not contracted to Fifa or deployed in the Festival.

But long after fans have retreated to their hotels, the guards will stay on. In fact, it appears that fans are likely to see more of Doha in a week than these men will see in years. The guards say they work 12-hour shifts, and claim they usually get just one day off a month.

“We just go between our duty and our accommodation,” said one holding out his phone. “You can show me anywhere in Qatar and I won’t know where it is.”

The claims come on the eve of the start of the men’s Fifa World Cup, which is due to start on Sunday amid widespread international criticism of the host nation’s record on migrant worker and LGBTQ+ rights.

In recent weeks Fifa and the Qatari authorities have battled to turn the spotlight away from workers’ and LGBTQ+ rights, with Fifa’s general secretary Gianni Infantino saying World Cup teams they should “focus on the football” and warning them against “handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world”.

The Guardian’s findings are based on interviews carried out over the past few months with park guards working for Al Nasr Star Security Services. Guards and “marshals” employed by other companies also work in the park. There is no suggestion they are subject to the same claims over conditions.

Analysis by The Guardian of workers’ pay notifications, corroborated by workers’ accounts of their working hours and pay, suggests that the guards are typically paid 1330 rials (£310) a month for 348 hours on duty, plus a small food allowance. It is understood that this includes 104 hours of overtime, for which they are paid 150 rials, which if correct equates to less than 35p an hour.

Such working hours and overtime pay appear to be in breach of Qatar’s labour laws.

View of Doha from Al Bidda Park, Qatar.
The Al Bidda Park, which opened in 2018, adjoins Fifa’s fan festival and is likely to attract many football supporters. Photograph: Pete Pattisson

The security guards say they know they are being underpaid but feel powerless to act. “It’s illegal, but the government keeps quiet, so what can we do?” claims one.

“We put up with it because we need the money,” said another, revealing the predicament faced by many low-wage workers in Qatar. Others are grateful to at least have a job that pays more than they can make at home. “I’m happy because I get something … It’s a struggle but I don’t care because I don’t have anything,” one said.

An Amnesty International report in March this year found exploitation in the private security sector was commonplace in Qatar.

“Security guards are integral to the smooth running of the World Cup … No one should have to work under these conditions and anyone who has suffered abuse must be provided redress,” said Ella Knight, researcher on migrants’ labour rights at Amnesty.

Knight suggested the Guardian’s findings are, “another clear example of the shortcomings of the reform process and how remaining gaps in enforcement of laws continue to afflict the lives of migrant workers in the country.”

Qatar’s labour reforms should mean the Al Bidda Park guards are able to transfer to a better-paying job, but the workers say in practice it is very difficult, and believe that they still need their employer’s permission to seek other work. “If they gave [permission] … 90% would have changed jobs,” said one. “Even when we are sleeping, we dream of changing our job,” added a colleague.

Separately they all claim they had been forced to pay illegal recruitment fees – in the region of £1,175-£1,650 – to recruitment agents in their home countries to secure their jobs, effectively forcing them to work for up to five months just to repay the fee. And, while some football fans will enjoy the most opulent hotels in the world, some of these men sleep in bunk beds in over-crowded labour camps on the edge of the desert.

The Guardian visited one camp which houses the guards and found rooms with four bunk beds crammed end-to-end around the edge of a tiny space. There were no lockers, so the men shared their beds with their belongings or a suitcase. Cooking utensils were stuffed under the beds. Two large grimy kitchens and foul-smelling toilet cubicles stood outside. One guard said the toilets were so bad in his camp that he preferred to wait and use the ones at the park.

It is a world few football fans will see. Turn off a four-lane highway out of Doha and on to a potholed road and the only traffic is an endless flow of buses and minivans shipping men to and from their workplace. The road leads to dozens of accommodation blocks amid wasteland covered in litter. Outside each block, men sit on rocks scrolling through their phones while stray dogs play in the dust. A homemade basketball hoop is the only sign of normal life.

Today the Building and Wood Workers’ International, a trade union which has worked in partnership with the Qatari authorities to improve workers’ rights in the country, issued a strong-worded statement saying, ‘there is no sign that sustainable change [for migrant workers] is forthcoming.’

A Qatari government official said, “Over the past decade, extensive action has been taken to combat exploitative labour practices and provide accessible channels for workers to make complaints … When violations are recorded, corrective action is taken, and offending companies are penalised.”

The official said over 420,000 workers have changed their employer since a new law was introduced in 2020, which made it easier to change jobs. Last month, 3,712 labour inspections were carried out, he added, and 97% of workers are covered by the wage protection system, “which ensures all wages are paid in full and on time.”

“Systemic change does not happen in an instant – it takes time to transform a labour market. In other countries, this was a decades-long process, and in many countries – including in Europe – this process is still ongoing.

“Hundreds of thousands of workers have benefited from our labour reforms, and our commitment to improving the lives of every expatriate who has made Qatar a second home will continue long after the World Cup,” the official said.

The managing director of the Al Nasr Star Group confirmed the guards work 12-hour shifts but said that they get two hours’ break each day and one day off a week. The security guards who spoke to the Guardian claim they do not routinely get breaks during their working day, although one worker did say he was given breaks from work during the summer months.

The company did not respond to repeated requests for a written response to the allegations put to the Guardian by its workers or provide timesheets or information on pay for security guards working at Al Bidda.

This World Cup is about much more than football. I’ve seen the coffins | World Cup 2022

On a corner of my desk stands a giant stack of external hard drives. They hold the story, gigabyte after gigabyte, of almost a decade of reporting on the lives of Nepal’s migrant workers in the World Cup host nation, Qatar.

On one, I recently found a photo from July 2013 of Tilak Bishwakarma holding a picture of his son Ganesh. When he left his home for Qatar, Ganesh was a teenager hoping to earn some money to support his impoverished family. Two months later his body was brought home in a coffin.

I opened another photo, showing a tattered piece of paper, listing the names of 22 other Nepali workers who died in Qatar that July. Beside each name is written the cause of death: electrocution, falls, road traffic accident. On 17 July came Ganesh’s name. Cause of death: cardiac arrest.

Ganesh’s short life formed part of a major investigation into the treatment of Qatar’s vast low-wage migrant workforce (almost 90% of the country’s population comprises migrant workers). It revealed an appalling catalogue of abuses – overcrowded, filthy accommodation, passport confiscation and non-payment of wages – which in some cases may have amounted to forced labour, a modern form of slavery.

When the Guardian published its exclusive story in September 2013 after I saw the coffins of Nepali workers returning home from the Gulf, it made headlines around the world. Football was literally coming down to a matter of life and death. There was something deeply offensive about the exploitation of some of the world’s poorest people in the name of a festival of sport.

Fifa immediately said it was “very concerned”, though clearly not concerned enough to have done its own due diligence. The next day Qatar’s World Cup organisers sent a letter to the game’s governing body assuring it that they viewed the Guardian’s findings with the “utmost seriousness”. Attached to the letter was a one-page “Workers’ Charter” setting out, in skeletal form, their commitment to workers’ rights.

A demonstrator holds a placard critical of Qatar’s policies regarding the working conditions of migrant workers before a friendly between Scotland and Qatar in Edinburgh.
A demonstrator holds a placard critical of Qatar’s policies regarding the working conditions of migrant workers before a friendly between Scotland and Qatar in Edinburgh. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images

For the next nine years, that commitment would be relentlessly tested and challenged by the Guardian’s reporting. (If you value our dogged pursuit of justice, safety and fairness, please consider supporting our journalism today.)

We exposed how workers from North Korea were building a tower block – now a luxury hotel booked up by football fans – under conditions likely to constitute slave labour.

We documented the poverty wages being paid to the men constructing the new stadiums. In 2014 one told us he was earning overtime pay the equivalent of 45 pence an hour. Four years later another said his basic wage worked out at 60 pence an hour – 10,000 times less than the reported earnings of Lionel Messi.

We revealed that thousands of south Asian workers had died in Qatar in the decade after it won the right to host the World Cup, many from sudden and unexplained causes. The Qatari authorities have done little to investigate these deaths and countless families of the deceased have not received compensation from their employers.

Construction workers on Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium in 2015.
Construction workers on Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium in 2015. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

Last year we found workers employed at opulent Fifa-endorsed hotels trapped by recruitment debts and rogue employers, earning less in a month than the cost of a standard room for a night.

And in September we revealed that some labourers at World Cup stadiums were living in squalid, windowless cabins on the edge of the desert.

Low-wage migrant workers face a cruel choice: stay at home and suffer, or take the risk and go abroad. For some the gamble pays off – money is sent home, houses are rebuilt and children sent to school – but for too many it’s a bet they lose.

Reporting from Qatar is not easy, but the only way to really tell this story is to be on the ground, feel the searing heat, see the overcrowded labour camps and listen. And that’s the hardest part. People are afraid to speak, because however tough their circumstances are, they need the work, so why put that at risk to talk to a journalist?

Before each trip I agree protocols with my editor in the event that I’m detained (as a number of journalists have been). Once in Qatar, I am constantly looking over my shoulder, metaphorically and literally. Interviews take place at night, or parked up on a quiet street or in the back of a nondescript restaurant. But by working independently and undercover we have been able to expose what they hoped to keep hidden.

A room at the camp which houses workers employed at a number of World Cup stadiums in Qatar.
A room at the camp which houses workers employed at a number of World Cup stadiums in Qatar. Photograph: Pete Pattisson/The Guardian

So as the World Cup kicks off, if you value reading about the action in the stadiums, but also about the people who built them, please consider supporting a news organisation determined to expose the truth behind the slick PR of Big Football and the Gulf petrocrats. You can fund our work today, from just £1. If you can, please consider giving a little more each month or year.

It makes a difference. The cumulative pressure of our reporting, alongside the work of human rights groups and trade unions, forced the Qatari authorities to belatedly introduce a number of new laws that have the potential to create real change for low-wage workers.

The abusive kafala system, under which workers cannot change jobs without their employer’s permission, has – on paper – been abolished and a minimum wage has been introduced.

The reforms have neither gone far enough nor been implemented rigorously. But that’s why this work matters. When the Qatari authorities and Fifa make overblown claims about what they have achieved, we will challenge them.

Our reporters know that it’s about so much more than what happens on the pitch.

Support vital, investigative Guardian journalism today.

World Cup stadium workers ‘had their money stolen and lives ruined’, says rights group | Qatar

Migrant workers who constructed stadiums for the World Cup in Qatar have endured “persistent and widespread labour rights violations”, which include nationality-based discrimination, illegal recruitment practices and, in some cases, unpaid wages, according to allegations in a new report by human rights group Equidem.

While the report also documents a number of cases of good practice, including “adequate channels for reporting concerns with working conditions”, good access to healthcare, satisfactory safety measures and decent living conditions, Equidem’s findings conclude that Qatar has been a “hostile environment” for stadium workers.

It claims that many of the workers interviewed for its report faced severe exploitation and were forced to work in a culture of fear and retribution, “sustained through nationality-based discrimination and workplace violence, including physical, verbal, and mental abuse”.

Equidem also alleges that companies working on stadium construction have “actively evaded inspections”, quoting a Nepali worker employed at Lusail stadium, which will host the World Cup final, who told researchers that workers were sent back to their camps before a visit from Fifa.

“Workers started to hide to get a chance to complain to the Fifa group. Then the company started checking if anyone is still on site. If anyone was caught hiding, they were either sent back home or had their salary deducted,” he said in the report.

Unpaid wages, failure to pay for overtime or end-of-service benefits and wages lower than promised were also reported. A Bangladeshi worker employed at a number of stadiums told researchers: “I do not get paid for overtime work and I work from 6am to 6pm seven days a week.”

In 2014, the local World Cup organising committee established a set of “worker welfare standards” to protect workers on its projects, including better worker accommodation, mechanisms to file complaints and a scheme to reimburse workers’ recruitment fees. About £20m has been repaid so far.

In recent years, the Qatari authorities have also introduced a number of labour reforms, chiefly the introduction of a minimum wage and the abolition of the kafala, or sponsorship, system.

However, Equidem’s report suggests there were significant shortcomings in the implementation of these measures.

“The fact that such widespread labour abuse persists on worksites so heavily regulated by Qatar, Fifa and their partners, suggests that the reforms undertaken over the last five years have acted as cover for powerful businesses that seek to exploit migrant workers with impunity,” the report said.

The report calls on Fifa to establish a compensation fund for workers who have suffered during the building of the stadiums.

“We estimate thousands of workers are owed remedy for illegal recruitment charges, unpaid wages and other harms. Qatar, Fifa and their partners stand to earn billions from this tournament, yet the workers who built the stadiums have had their money stolen and their lives ruined,” said Mustafa Qadri, Equidem’s executive director. “Fifa can no longer turn a blind eye and should set up a compensation fund immediately.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Fifa said that measures to safeguard the health and wellbeing of World Cup workers, which include regular independent inspections, occupational health and safety measures on site, comprehensive medical checks and projects to address health and Covid-19, have been an important priority.

“The robustness of this programme has been recognised repeatedly by experts and trade unions over the years, reaching the highest international standards in terms of health and safety. We are in contact with our Qatari counterparts to assess the information included in the Equidem report,” Fifa said.

Qatar’s supreme committee, which is organising the tournament, did not respond to a request for comment.

Southgate criticised for claiming Qatar workers ‘united’ in wanting World Cup | World Cup 2022

Gareth Southgate is facing criticism from human rights groups after claiming that workers in Qatar were “united” in wanting the World Cup to take place, despite the country’s poor employment rights record.

The England manager’s remarks were questioned by Human Rights Watch, which said families of migrant workers who had died, been injured, or cheated of their wages had told it they “would like to support the World Cup but cannot because their children are starving and their breadwinners died in Qatar”.

Amnesty International warned that although many migrant workers in Qatar were football fans, the majority were more interested in having their rights fully protected and being paid properly than in the World Cup.

Southgate made his remarks in an interview with CNN, in which he acknowledged there were ongoing issues with Qatar but said there was no question the World Cup should go ahead.

“I’ve been out to Qatar several times and I’ve met with lots of the workers out there and they are united in certainly one thing, that’s that they want the tournament to happen, and they want that because they love football,” he said. “They want the football to come to Qatar.”

However Minky Worden, the director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, suggested such a viewpoint was misplaced.

“First, migrant workers in Qatar cannot speak freely because of security concerns, and the FA should know this,” she told the Guardian.

“Second, has Gareth Southgate and the FA attempted to contact migrant workers and families of those who died from Nepal, India, Kenya or elsewhere? Any family who received a loved one and breadwinner home in a coffin without compensation from Fifa and Qatar cannot cheer the opening of this World Cup.

“Southgate does not face any risks speaking to migrant workers, but migrant workers do face risks in speaking to him, including the loss of their jobs and deportation if they say something Qatari officials think is wrong.

There are many migrant workers who are proud of the work they have done to build the World Cup in Qatar. But there are also many who have suffered preventable deaths and harms and until the deaths, loans, injuries and wage theft are compensated, it is not correct to say all migrant workers are ‘united’.”

A worker stands in front of a billboard for the Qatar 2022 World Cup
Human rights groups have said while many workers are football fans they are more interested in having their rights protected and being paid properly. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The issue of human rights in Qatar remains a concern, despite Fifa and the Qatari organisers claiming that significant reforms have taken place. Last year the Guardian reported that 6,500 migrant workers had died since Qatar was awarded the World Cup 10 years ago. A more recent investigation found that workers employed on World Cup-related projects are having to work 12-hour shifts across 30 days a month to earn the equivalent of about £1 an hour.

In his interview Southgate stressed that the Football Association had been working with human rights groups to help them to seek redress before the tournament kicks off on 20 November. “We’re trying to support those ideas with compensation for families who have lost workers and a worker’s rights centre,” he said. “So we’re supporting the things we’ve been asked to support.”

However Ella Knight, Amnesty International’s migrants’ labour rights researcher, said far more needed to be done by Fifa and football as a whole.

“Many workers in Qatar will of course be football fans, but what migrant workers have really stressed to us is the need to have their rights fully protected, to be paid properly, able to change jobs freely and to enjoy safe and dignified working conditions – before, during and after this tournament,” she said.

“The World Cup is about to take place with vital labour reforms still very much unfinished business, and thousands of workers’ abuses remaining unaddressed.

“The opening game is now less than three weeks away and Fifa is yet to commit to remedying workers and their families for the abuses they’ve suffered despite widespread support from the public, FAs, players and World Cup sponsors. We urge the FA to maintain its pressure on Fifa, pushing it to recognise and urgently address the suffering of workers without whom the World Cup simply wouldn’t be possible.”

The Qatari Supreme Committee, which is responsible for organising the tournament, has insisted there have been improvements. In a statement last month it said: “The advancements in workers’ welfare is a legacy we are very proud of, and one that we are already seeing in action. We have always believed that the World Cup will be a catalyst to accelerate positive initiatives, leaving a legacy of meaningful and sustainable progress for the country and region.”