With this year’s World Cup in Qatar clouded by labor and human rights issues, there’s a push for the North American cities awarded games for the 2026 tournament to commit to livable wages, equitable hiring and worker protection.
The Dignity 2026 coalition has brought together groups including the AFL-CIO, Human Rights Watch and the Independent Supporters Council to work with FIFA and the individual host cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
The coalition has met several times in the past few months with soccer’s international governing body to discuss its commitment to these issues. With last week’s announcement of the 16 cities that will host games, the effort has become more targeted.
They say FIFA is listening, but has not pledged to require minimum standards.
“That means looking at fair living wages, targeted local hiring, strong health and safety protections and agreements that make sure workers have a voice on the job. So we have given them about nine points that we would like to see implemented across all of the host cities. Because one of the things we have found is the cities haven’t gotten guidance about what the expectations are,” said Cathy Feingold, director of the international department at the AFL-CIO. “And so we think the best way to handle this is to make sure there are very clear binding frameworks that unify all of the host cities.”
FIFA did not respond to a request for comment.
This year’s World Cup starts in November. Critics say the first World Cup in the Middle East is problematic because of Qatar’s history of human and labor rights abuses. There have been widespread reports of abuse of the migrant workers who have built the estimated $200 billion in projects that include stadiums, transport and other infrastructure.
Qatari officials and FIFA have said the World Cup has accelerated positive changes in the nation’s laws and society. And indeed, the nation has introduced a minimum wage and dismantled the “kafala” sponsorship system binding workers to their employer.
The U.S., Canada and Mexico bid for the World Cup included a 90-page plan to address human rights. Some of the groups in Dignity 2026 were involved in the plan’s formulation.
“We know very well that what’s on paper, doesn’t always mean what’s put into practice. And so what we’ve come together to do is really translate that document that at this point is non-binding and make sure its implemented in the host cities,” Feingold said.
Four years ago when the joint bid was awarded, there were concerns about the implications of then-President Donald Trump’s orders barring travel to the United States from a number of Muslim-majority countries. Trump later assured FIFA that travel for the event would not be impeded, and President Joseph Biden subsequently overturned the orders.
Of rising concern are U.S. laws in some states targeting the LGBTQ community, including laws that impact transgender children and athletes, as well as measures that impact reproductive rights and voting access.
In Canada, the marginalization of indigenous communities is under scrutiny, while Mexico has struggled to reign in fans who use homophobic chants at soccer matches.
Dan Hunt, the president of FC Dallas and head of that city’s bid committee, said the 2026 World Cup is unique because the stadiums already are in place, so there will not be massive construction projects. The Dallas area’s bid centered around AT&T Stadium in Arlington, home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
Hunt said the Dallas committee incorporated human rights into its bid, including making sure the LGBTQ community has a voice. The bid committee was also concerned with sex trafficking that often occurs around big events, he said.
“There are things we’re going to have to focus on in regards to the workers here,” Hunt said. “Worker safety is a major issue that every company faces. So more to come on that.”
Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, said the World Cup is a unique chance to shine a light on human and workers’ rights and pave the way for change.
“The World Cup should not be a human rights horror show,” Worden said. “We have the example of the World Cup in Russia — no LGBT rights, no workers rights, North Korean slave labor building the St. Petersburg stadium. We have the example currently of Qatar with no migrant worker’s rights, thousands dead, no LGBT rights, no women’s rights and by the way, no press freedom.
“So the idea is, for the love of God, can’t we do better?”