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Sat, 30 May 2020

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The link between modern slavery, human rights and sport is increasingly evident

The link between modern slavery, human rights and sport is increasingly evident
4 min read

We have promised the world we will demonstrate diversity both on and off the field - let’s hope we can also lead by example and ensure human rights, write Alex Norris and Baroness Young


As we celebrate the end of FIFA Russia 2018, we – alongside three other parliamentary colleagues – have initiated a new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Sport, Modern Slavery and Human Rights. Together, we co-chair the group and over the next two years, we will be gathering evidence.

But why? Surely there are already enough APPGs in a heavily distracted UK Parliament and why link the issues of sport, human rights and modern slavery?

Our answer comes in part from the selection of both Russia and Qatar for the Men’s FIFA World Cups this year and in 2022, both of which raised substantial human rights concerns. In Russia, there were more than 20 construction-related deaths associated with the building of stadiums, alongside the sanitisation of the regime in Chechnya and concerns about homophobia and racism.

Several labourers have died constructing stadiums in Qatar too, and the authorities are having to work hard to modify traditional employment practices that left migrant workers with few rights or freedoms. We have been pleased to observe FIFA, Qatar and the successful United bid for 2026 showing that they have learned from past mistakes, but we now need to see how things will improve moving forward.

Parliament also has a more direct interest in sport and human rights. Since the UK Modern Slavery Act (2015) came into force, all large commercial companies must now report on forced and abusive labour practices in their supply chains. As a result, British consumers are becoming aware of how modern slavery taints a number of everyday products.

Anything from prawns to mattresses, to smartphone batteries, to high street and high-end fashion could be the product of forced and/or child labour. And the problem is not going away – the 2017 Annual Report on Modern Slavery released by the Home Office last year revealed that modern slavery-related crimes rose 159% from 2015 to 2016. This is probably due, at least in part, to increased awareness, but the number continues to rise.

A recent article in The Guardian revealed some of the highest risk areas for modern slavery included temporary cleaning staff, logistics support and outsourced security staff, many of which would be used on the grounds of some of Britain’s favourite football clubs.

All the clubs in the Premier League – from Arsenal to Wolverhampton Wanderers – meet the Modern Slavery Act’s mandatory reporting threshold of £36 million a year turnover, and most have produced their statements in compliance with the law. Of course, it’s not only football where parts of the supply chain are at high risk of continual involvement in coercive and abusive labour practices – the kinds of services mentioned in The Guardian article may be found in tennis, rugby, Formula 1 and other sports too

So, if you take these factors: the substantial numbers of British construction companies who have won contracts to build World Cup stadiums in Qatar (and construction is another industry with a high risk of modern slavery); the sportswear manufacturers and broadcasters that are an indispensable part of every major sporting event including the Olympics; the global supply chains of sports businesses, then the link between modern slavery, human rights, and sport is increasingly evident.

We have mega-sporting events of our own coming up, such as the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. We have promised the world we will demonstrate diversity both on and off the field, let’s hope we can also lead by example and ensure human rights.

(For information on future sessions and how to give evidence, please visit the APPG website. The APPG SMSHR is supported by the Institute for Human Rights and Business and the UN Global Compact Network UK.)

Alex Norris, Labour MP for Nottingham North, and Baroness Young of Hornsey, Crossbench peer, are co-chairs of the Sport, Modern Slavery and Human Rights APPG

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