The FIFA World Cup has been built on a decade of human rights violations: whichever way you look, it’s workers from the global South who are exploited

The FIFA World Cup has been built on a decade of human rights violations: whichever way you look, it’s workers from the global South who are exploited


Whilst the world’s attention is, rightly so, on the migrant workers who have paid the ultimate price for this event, FIFA’s shameful web of exploitation pre-dates Qatar’s involvement, and reaches far beyond the country’s borders.  Major sponsors who publicly condemned Qatar’s record on human rights, have looked the other way for decades at FIFA’s reliance on exploitative labour. This begs the question, is it easier for western companies to hold Qatar to account for human rights violations, than to look at their own complicity in decades of labour exploitation?

The plight of migrant workers in Qatar is certainly confronting. When Qatar won the right to host the World Cup 2022 back in 2010, a gargantuan project began to build the infrastructure needed to host such an event, including hotels, transport, and solar-powered air-cooling stadiums. Qatari companies sponsored thousands of migrant workers from countries like Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, with the promise of well-paid work, which would enable them to support their families back home.

Workers soon realised they were trapped, needing their sponsors permission to change jobs or leave the country. They endured long gruelling hours of hard labour in extreme heat of up to 50 degrees Celsius. Conditions of modern slavery prevailed as workers lived in squalid conditions, had wages withheld, and passports confiscated.

Just before the World Cup kicked off, many workers were sent back to their home countries before their contracts ended, without being paid their full salaries or allowances. For workers who paid exorbitant fees of up to $4,300 to recruiters, this meant going back empty-handed, or indebted. Not all workers will return home though, in 2021 the Guardian reported that 6,500 migrant workers from five countries died during the decade since Qatar won the right to host the World Cup.

Major sponsors, media and fans who were quick to condemn the conditions faced by migrant workers in Qatar, are often reluctant to address the same issues that are woven into the fabric of the World Cup. Perhaps it is not as easy when the finger of blame points to those who are closer to home.

Last month, a media investigation highlighted that garment workers producing England football shirts for Nike are paid just over $1 per hour. Kits worn by players such as Harry Kane and Jack Grealish are made in low-wage factories around the world. In many cases workers are from the same countries where migrant workers in Qatar originate, and suffer the same abusive conditions.

Poverty wages and unsafe factories prevail in the garment industry. Workers from impoverished communities are often recruited both domestically and internationally to work in industrial zones where employers take advantage of favourable trade agreements.  Recruitment fees and accommodation costs are taken out of monthly salaries, severely limiting workers’ earning potential. Workers are often deceived about pay and conditions, and are trapped when their passports are confiscated by employers.

Despite publicly supporting calls for a compensation fund to be set up for migrant construction workers in Qatar, official FIFA sponsor adidas is currently under fire from labour rights advocates for persistent wage theft, union busting and mass lay-offs in its own supply chain.  It is estimated that workers from eight adidas supplier factories in Cambodia are owed $11.7 million in unpaid wages. In 2020, 1,020 workers from Hulu Garment, an adidas supplier, were tricked into signing voluntary resignations, so that the factory could avoid paying $3.6 million in severance. In October 2019, workers at Jeans Knit, an adidas supplier factory in India, went on strike when their workload doubled and those who could not keep up were fired. The factory fired 250 workers and harassed others, mostly migrant workers. Adidas failed to take prompt action to remedy the violations. Just last month, two thousand workers at Myanmar Pou Chen, an adidas shoe supplier factory, held a three-day strike over low pay. In response, 29 workers were fired, and union members targeted. These are just a handful of the worker rights violations in adidas supplier factories during the past decade.

The FIFA World Cup has been built on the exploitation of workers, and whichever way you look it is workers from the global South who are paying the price. This is not through lack of money: adidas spent $800 million to extend its sponsorship of the World Cup until 2030, Qatari officials estimate that the country has spent $200 billion on preparations, and FIFA itself will pay a prize pot of $440 million. There is plenty of money exchanging hands, but little will reach the workers who have made the World Cup possible.

This exploitation is by design rather than by accident, whether it is Qatari construction companies, or official sponsors like adidas. Companies pursue the cheapest labour around the globe to maximise their profits. Workers with limited employment options are actively recruited from the same low-wage economy countries. Trade unions are repressed at the earliest opportunity, dashing any chance that workers have of securing better conditions or wages.

The tragic loss of life involved in constructing the FIFA World Cup means that it is too late for many workers. Through its inaction, FIFA and its sponsors have allowed ‘the beautiful game’ to be stained with blood. But it is not too late for the Qatari Government, FIFA and major sponsors such as adidas to take action to mitigate the impact on workers. A coalition of human rights groups are calling on FIFA and Qatar to provide financial compensation to workers and their families. At the same time, the Clean Clothes Campaign, along with a coalition of over 260 trade unions and labour rights groups is calling on major sports brands including adidas to negotiate with trade unions and sign a binding agreement on wages, severance, and labour rights. It is not too late for this to be a game of two halves for labour rights, if only powerful decision makers will finally put people before profits.

Spotlight on Adidas

As one of the worlds biggest sports brands, Adidas has a shocking record of wage theft, labour rights violations, and harassment in their supply chain. Workers are organising and speaking up to let the world know the real adidas.

Garment worker unions from across the world have come together to say enough is enough: It is time for adidas to sign a binding agreement on wages, severance, and the freedom to organise to ensure that workers in its supply chain are never again robbed of the money they’ve earned.

If adidas are willing to spend $800m sponsoring FIFA, why won’t they spend just 10 cents more per product to end wage theft in their supply chain?

Call out: Could you become a Trustee?

Call out: Could you become a Trustee?

 Could you become
 a trustee?  

Applications now open for new trustee recruitment

We are recruiting trustees

The Labour Behind the Label Trust are currently welcoming applications for new trustees. We are open to applications from anyone with a passion for changing the fashion industry for the better. You could be a trade unionist, a person from the media or the world of fashion, or be a current or ex-garment worker. People from all backgrounds are welcome to apply.

We are particularly interested in applications from those with experience working with funding groups, major donor fundraising and agencies, and those who can help us to develop stronger community links in Leicester, home to the largest garment-producing hub in the UK.

Find out more by downloading the person spec,  and send your submission in. This application has a rolling deadline.  

About you


We are striving for LBL to be more representative of the garment workers we serve, most of whom are people of colour from the global South. This means we particularly welcome applications from people with lived experiences of racism and/or migration.

There are several additional communities under-represented among LBL trustees at present, including but not limited to, trans and non-binary people and those with disabilities. As a course of positive action to improve representation in our team, we actively encourage applications from these under-represented groups.



Solidarity with Sri Lanka unions fighting repression

Solidarity with Sri Lanka unions fighting repression

Solidarity with Sri lankaN unions fighting repression


LBL has joined partners to issue a statement of solidarity for trade unions in Sri Lanka who are fighting repression

In recent months, the Sri Lankan government increased its repression amidst an economic and political crisis, sending in the army on workers protesting peacefully. Today our partners Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union together with the National Labour Advisory Council Trade union Collective are holding a members rally at the Public Library in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo. CCC, Labour Behind The Label, Maquila Solidarity Network, Workers United and War on Want support the unions, who condemn the government’s disregard for the voice of trade unions and demand the Labour Ministry calls for an immediate meeting of the National Labour Advisory Council.

Call out: We are looking for a designer to work on our LGBTQI zine

Call out: We are looking for a designer to work on our LGBTQI zine


Could you be the designer we are looking for? 

In recent years, fashion brands have tapped into the pink pound, releasing Pride collections and capitalising on LGBTQI+ rights to sell fast-fashion. However, the workers in their supply chain, including LGBTQI+ workers, are paid poverty wages and have poor labour rights protections.

We have been working on an exciting project with LGBTQI+ groups in Cambodia and Indonesia to collect stories of LGBTQI+ workers, so that we can share the stories of workers lives, both inside and outside of the factories. 

We are looking for an enthusiastic designer, who shares our passion for this project, to present the stories in a zine format. 

Find out more by downloading the brief,  and send your submission in before Monday 28th November. 

About you:

We particularly encourage expressions of interest from PoC and/ or LGBTQI+ designers for this project, who ideally have experience of working on issues of labour, racial or LGBTQI+ justice.

For an informal conversation about the project, please email meg@labourbehindthelabel.org

Pakistan: Union busting at International Textile factory

Pakistan: Union busting at International Textile factory

 Union Busting 
 At International 
 Textile Factory 

Workers from a towel and linen supplier in Karachi are fighting for their rights after being dismissed for taking part in union activities

Workers from a towel, linen and apparel supplier in Pakistan are fighting for their jobs after being dismissed for taking part in union activities.

The factory, called International Textile in the Korangi Industrial Area of Karachi, Pakistan produces for international hotel chains including Marriott and Accor, the hotel linen brand Standard Textile, and UK company Marks & Spencer.

In October 2021, 25 workers were illegally dismissed for their participation in union activities and for demanding their legal rights, in clear violation of their freedom of association. These workers had recently participated in union organising at the factory relating to underpayment of wages and benefits. Following a worker-led protest demanding their jobs back, 18 of the workers were reinstated but the 7 workers who were leading union organising in the factory did not get their jobs back. A further worker was dismissed for unionising in January. These 8 workers appear to have been blacklisted by International Textile for their union organising and are unable to find any jobs in other factories.  

All of the fired workers were employed as ‘contractors’ through the labour agent (which is illegal), but the factory say that because they weren’t direct employees their reinstatement isn’t the factory’s responsibility.

Widespread labour violations in the factory led to worker unionization efforts. These violations included non-payment of the double rate for overtime, non-payment of double overtime rate for working on gazetted holidays, forced overtime beyond legal limits, pay discrimination against women workers and general underpayment of wages.

The workers have started a court case demanding their rights and jobs back, but this is slow and the workers are stuck without income while the court processes are delayed.

The union, NTUF, is demanding that International Textile respect workers’ rights defined by local and international laws, and ensure that the 8 workers be reinstated with back pay for wages and benefits covering the period since their dismissal. They are further urging International Textile to enter into dialogue with NTUF to address the other documented labour rights violations, and to negotiate the terms of the workers’ return.

We have contacted brands in this case but no resolution has yet been reached.

Spotlight on Pakistan's Labour Contractors

Many workers in Pakistan are employed via labour contractors – recruiters and employers who supply workers to big factory operations. Under the Sindh Factories Act 2015 this set up is illegal, yet the use of contracted labour is commonplace in Pakistan. 

The benefit to suppliers of using labour contractors to provide a percentage of their workforce is that suppliers can keep workers at one step remove and avoid some financial and legal duties towards them as full employees. This includes dismissing workers cheaply when they don’t need full factory capacity, and also dismissing workers who they see as undesirable in their factories, such as those who unionise… 

This illegal yet commonplace tactic has led to low unionisation rates – with precarious work and fewer rights many workers find the risk of organising is too great. This case at International Textile is just one of many where worker organising has been eliminated through what seems to be a mundane contract dispute. The importance of the fight of these workers will have an impact on many. If they win or lose, the union see their case as setting a precedent as to whether suppliers will be allowed in the future to undermine freedom of association through labour contracting methods. 

Adidas: End wage-theft and pay your workers

Adidas: End wage-theft and pay your workers

 Pay your workers

As Adidas celebrates 73 years as a global sports brand, pressure is mounting for them to address wage-theft in their supply chain. Trade unions, activists and labour rights groups around the world are calling on Adidas to sign a negotiated binding agreement on wages, severance and labour rights. 

Adidas has left the workers in its supply chain without the payments they are owed during the pandemic and in the economic crisis that followed. Adidas claims that all is fine, but the workers in its supply chain beg to differ. In eight adidas supplier factories in Cambodia alone, Adidas owe their workers US$ 11.7 million in wages for just the first 14 months of the pandemic – that’s $387 per worker. Workers no longer making clothes for Adidas are also owed money. Workers of the Hulu Garment factory in Cambodia who were laid off at the beginning of the pandemic are still owed 3.6million USD. In May 2022, 5,600 workers at another Adidas supplier in Cambodia went on strike over unpaid wages – the factory responded by having union leaders arrested. This wage and severance theft stretches far beyond Cambodia across Adidas’ global supply chain. 

It is not that Adidas does not know that it carries responsibility to ensure that workers in its supply chain are paid what they are owed. In 2013, Adidas finally paid the PT Kizone workers in Indonesia who had fought for two years for the 1.8 million USD severance they were owed after losing their jobs.

It is time for Adidas to sign a binding agreement on wages, severance and the freedom to organise to ensure that workers in its supply chain never have to go without their full wages and severance again.

Spotlight on Hulu Garment

Hulu Garment, a sewing facility located in Phnom Penh, Cambodia supplying Adidas, as well as Amazon, Walmart, Macy’s, and LT Apparel Group, suspended its entire workforce of 1,020 workers in March 2020.

As the end of the suspension period neared, management called workers in and told them on 22nd April that, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the factory had no orders and may need to lay off workers.

Management also told workers to “sign” a document with their thumb print in order to receive their pay, explaining: “you have to sign; otherwise, we cannot wire your last wage.”

All Hulu Garment workers signed the document that day, without realizing that buried in the document was a sentence stating they were resigning. Management hid the word “resignation” appearing at the top of each letter by affixing the worker’s most recent payslip to cover it.

This is just one example of wage and severance theft in Adidas’ supply chain. It is time for Adidas to make wage theft a thing of the past, and sign a binding agreement negotiated with unions.