At least 90 migrant workers were reported to have died from alleged corporate abuse or neglect in the past year, but the number of deaths not publicly reported is probably much higher, according to data from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), a non-government organisation.
“Migrant workers are subjected to a range of human rights abuses – often facilitated by government regulations and permitted to continue by multinationals at the top of supply chains, who are failing to monitor, investigate and remedy abuse sufficiently,” said Isobel Archer, senior migrant rights researcher at BHRRC.
The report is based on publicly documented information published between December 2022 and 30 November 2023, by NGOs, government publications and the media, which the BHRRC gathered and analysed. Most of the reported deaths (83%) were linked to breaches in occupational health and safety standards.
“Worryingly, the scope and scale of abuse is believed to be much higher than these figures indicate – owing to restrictions on journalistic freedoms, lack of access to remedy or grievance mechanisms by migrant workers and the threat of reprisal for workers who said they were afraid to speak up,” the report states.
BHRRC also analysed reports on individual companies linked to alleged migrant worker abuse and found that Fifa, Meta and Tesco were the companies most frequently cited in cases recorded in the database through their operations, business relationships, or supply and value chains. There is no suggestion that these cases were linked to worker deaths.
Meta is linked to cases of abuse through its role as a social media platform used by recruitment agents and other companies to exploit migrants looking for work, the organisation stated.
Fifa is connected to cases of abuse in Qatar of migrants – from Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, India, Uganda, Pakistan and the Philippines – engaging in work related to the 2022 World Cup.
A total of 613 cases of abuse, linked to 389 named companies, were recorded by BHRRC during the year.
Abuses documented included wage theft, violence, excessive working hours, arbitrary denial of freedoms, occupational health and safety breaches, and unfair recruitment practices, such as charging illicit recruitment fees.
Migrant workers often possess interconnecting vulnerabilities, leaving them open to unscrupulous employers, such as lacking access to social security, information, unions and advocates and experiencing social marginalisation, including discrimination and xenophobia, the report highlighted.
Migrant workers most frequently affected by cases of abuse were from Nepal, the Philippines and India, who travelled to the Middle East, Europe and the Americas for work.
“Companies must realise it’s simply not enough to publish general labour rights policies; they must recognise specific vulnerabilities and urgently respond to them by adopting tailored and migrant worker-centric risk assessment, due diligence and remedy processes,” said Archer.
A Fifa spokesperson said: “We regret that the report referred to does not take into account the far-reaching measures implemented by the tournament organisers in Qatar and Fifa to ensure protection for migrant workers involved in the preparation and delivery of the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022, which have been recognised by multiple independent organisations, such as the UN, the ILO [International Labour Organization] and international unions who inspected these sites on a regular basis.
“In addition, it is widely recognised that the Fifa World Cup in Qatar served as a catalyst for labour reforms that enhanced protections for hundreds of thousands of workers in the country.”
A Tesco spokesperson said: “Protecting human rights in our supply chains is central to how we do business – any form of human rights abuse is unacceptable, and we expect all our suppliers to respect the rights of workers and the communities in which they operate. As a responsible business, and to ensure transparency, we publish an annual Modern Slavery Statement, alongside the action we and our suppliers have taken to ensure workers’ rights are protected.”
Meta did not respond to a request for comment.