FIFA has already failed workers in spaces predominantly taken up by men, and women are, as ever, left even further behind. As another major sporting event kicks off with all eyes on the players, Equidem has uncovered rampant exploitation of women workers that produce FIFA apparel.
“We have a daily target to reach. The supervisor fixes our daily target. I make 60-80 pieces per hour. I can only go to the restroom after finishing my hourly target. When a lot of work piles up, they don’t let us go anywhere. They verbally abuse us. I work for 10-12 hours a day at my sewing machine. Today, my supervisor told me to give 80 pieces per hour, but it was quite difficult to make 80 pieces. I made 60 pieces per hour. He shouted at me several times.”
Distressing testimonies have been shared from women working in factories that source official merchandise for FIFA tournaments in Bangladesh, who earn well below living wages, are forced into unpaid overtime, and threatened with job loss when falling pregnant, all while facing disproportionate levels of verbal abuse and the illegal denial of worksite childcare and maternity leave, forcing them to send their children to live elsewhere so they can work.
“I can’t keep my son with me. I work between 8 and 12 hours every day. Who will look after him? I searched for someone to leave my son with when I went to work, but I did not get anyone. We don’t have a childcare room in our factory. My son lives in Dhaka with my mother-in law and father-in-law.”
The working conditions faced by women in supply chains sourcing official FIFA merchandise violate the vision of dignity and respect that women football players have made a defining feature of the 2023 FIFA tournament.
“After the Men’s World Cup this past year in Qatar, FIFA pledged to set up a human rights subcommittee that would assess the legacy of the 2022 tournament, although there has been no further update as to the status of that assessment, nor its learnings. Equidem urges FIFA to extend its expressed commitment to improving working conditions to women workers in their apparel supply chains” said Mustafa Qadri, Equidem’s CEO.
Even as FIFA has voiced support for pay equity for women players, it does not show that same care for its women workers across its supply chain. In Equidem’s investigation, researchers heard numerous stories of workers that had been systematically denied freedom of association, creating a culture of fear within the factory.
Yet, the world has seen significant advances in pay parity for women players, including making the Women’s World Cup more professional, ensuring equal regulations and conditions, and fair distribution of prize money to players. The United States team, after years of negotiations, public battles, and court filing won an equal pay deal that makes them one of the best-paid national teams in the world. Equidem’s CEO Mustafa Qadri notes:
“This movement toward gender parity within FIFA, signals a heightened commitment within the organisation to fair conditions for women players—on par with their male counterparts. This should extend to all women, not just those under the stadium lights.”
Gender discrimination in supply chains sourcing official FIFA merchandise
Workers described a common practice of being told that they would lose their jobs if they became pregnant during the first two years they were employed. A woman worker employed as a sewing machine operator explained:
“When I started working here, the factory doctor told me not to have babies for the first two years. I was told that after completing two years, I can have children. If I get pregnant before that, I will have to resign. They will not give me any leave.”
Under domestic law in Bangladesh, where the factory is based, working mothers are entitled to four months of paid maternity leave—eight weeks of prenatal leave and eight weeks of postnatal leave. Workers employed in the factories Equidem investigated reported that they did not get paid maternity leave at all—a clear violation of Bangladeshi law.
A woman worker employed as a sewing machine operator explained:
“We get maternity leave here, but they don’t give us any money for maternity leave…They will say, ‘Ok, go. You can come after the delivery.’ That’s it. The only good thing is the pregnant woman can do the job again after the delivery.”
All of this results in women workers being forced to quit their jobs before they give birth, experiencing job insecurity during what can be an extremely stressful time, and joining the factory to work again after the delivery.
Workers also described facing high levels of verbal abuse. According to a male worker in the cutting department, women workers are reprimanded more often:
“Those who are a little tougher are nagged a little less and those who are soft are nagged a little more. Girls are scolded more than us.”
A woman worker employed as a sewing machine operator echoed this sentiment:
“We have fewer male workers and more female workers. They only behave badly with the female workers. Female workers tolerate everything, they don’t argue much. They verbally abuse women a lot.”
Women workers in these factories have a set number of orders to complete daily, regardless of whether there are issues or if the amount is unrealistic. Some reported being forced to work 15-hour shifts, with immense pressure to meet unrealistic daily targets. Our research found that workers’ shifts last for a minimum of nine hours a day, six days a week, but they often work overtime, with threats of their pay being cut if targets were not met.
Workers on FIFA apparel supply chains subsidise the manufacturing of FIFA apparel products by absorbing health impacts with long-term consequences. These health impacts are compounded by poor working conditions, including long hours performing repetitive manual tasks under exposure to heat, noise, dust, and chemicals.
FIFA’s wider patterns of abuse
The above findings can be coupled with the patterns of abuse and exploitation Equidem has uncovered in other FIFA contracts and supply chains, in Qatar and elsewhere around the world.
Last year, Equidem investigated the treatment of workers at FIFA partner hotels for the Qatar World Cup 2022 and found that women workers were subjected to increased levels of discrimination and sexual harassment.
Guests and colleagues alike perpetrate sexual harassment and violence against hotel workers, as one woman reported routinely facing harassment that included inappropriate touching and sexual propositions. These events were described as common experiences in the industry, not just isolated incidents.
Another woman working at a FIFA partner hotel told us:
“…Sometimes they touch us inappropriately while working together. I cannot say anything because if I do, they will say that it was unintentional, and they will dismiss me. I just ignore comments and advances.”
In some hotels, women could not securely report incidents to supervisors. Workers at the Crowne Plaza in Doha described a hotel policy of replacing female housekeeping workers with male colleagues when guests behaved inappropriately, rather than dealing with the issue and ensuring the women worker’s safety.
These wider patterns of abuse point to systemic gender discrimination, with FIFA’s profits built on modern day slavery conditions of vulnerable workers. Rampant exploitation appears to be part and parcel of FIFA’s profit-making apparatus.
Equidem has engaged with thousands of workers on FIFA product and service supply chains in hospitality, security, and construction, and will continue to release these findings and engage FIFA and business partners to develop, implement, and enforce meaningful practices to achieve their labour and human rights promises. Equidem not only documents rights violations but supports workers individually and through their collectives to access remedy for rights violations.
Equidem continues to monitor FIFA’s impact on workers due to our unique position, working with field investigators and workers directly. Every day, highly distressed workers who are the foundation of the global economy are reaching out for help across the entire spectrum of FIFA’s supply chain.
These findings have been shared with FIFA, and while a comment has been requested from FIFA and companies in its garment supply chain, Equidem continues to monitor the Women’s World Cup by liaising with staff on the ground. We will continue to follow FIFA’s activities around the world, across its global supply chain, and will continue to demand fair treatment and compensation for its workers.
“The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 brings with it many positive improvements for its players, and it is crucial that FIFA extends that progress to addressing the harms its women workers experience. FIFA has the power, money, and resource to address this at the systemic level, and we will keep monitoring their global supply chains until it does.” – Mustafa Qadri, CEO of Equidem.