Guðni Bergsson, the president of the Icelandic Football Association, has co-authored a letter with his Nordic colleges to FIFA, demanding that the human rights of North Korean men working on the Zenit Arena in St Petersburg be ensured.
In an in-depth reportage Norwegian football magazine Josimar uncovered a series of human rights abuses suffered by North Koreans working on preparations for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Forced to live in crowded storage containers just outside the stadium, the workers are underpaid and overworked in what’s been described as “slave-like” and dangerous conditions. The article claimed that a man was found dead from a heart attack in one of the containers, and five men in total have died in work related accidents.
North Korean workers are effectively sent abroad by their totalitarian government to work on various construction projects around Asia, with the state pocketing most of their wages. The salaries the men collect is seen as vital for the cash-strapped economy of the pariah state.
The letter was sent earlier this month and on May 22, MayGianni Infantino, the President of FIFA, replied to the letter, admitting that the organisation’s Decent Work Monitoring System had found evidence of abuse.
“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,” Infantino said.
This is not the first time in recent history that FIFA has come under fire for failing to act on human rights violations. Last year, FIFA sent a delegation to Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup, to investigate poor conditions and reports of deaths among migrant workers.
Matter of principle
The presidents of the four Nordic FAs claimed that as a matter of principle they could not sit idly by as human rights were being violated.
“The Nordic countries are at the forefront of human rights in the world and following the revelations of violations in Russia we felt it imperative that we do what we can to ensure that the rights of the migrant workers be respected,” Guðni told RÚV.is. “We fully expect that FIFA is committed to rectifying the situation.”