FIFA and Bribery in Qatar: It’s Time to Approach Corruption and Human Rights Together

Jun 26, 2015 10:00 AM ET

ALISON TAYLOR, Director, Energy and Extractives, BSR

The U.S. government’s FIFA bribery investigation has been a long time coming. It is a story of enormous public interest, with many facets beyond the lucrative business of football. It is an illustration of systemic organizational corruption, the consequences of warped incentive structures, the limits of financial audits, and America’s role as global anticorruption enforcer.

But perhaps the most powerful long-term effect of these events will be to highlight the social devastation that corruption can cause, and refocus attention on the links between bribery and human rights abuses. By examining these links, business leaders can evaluate the tools they use to address corruption and human rights issues and consider some new approaches.

The investigations of FIFA officials has focused attention on other issues that might be festering as Qatar prepares for the 2022 World Cup, including reports of deaths, poor working conditions, and restrictions on freedom of movement among workers who are helping with construction for the big event.

Multinational construction companies working in the Persian Gulf are often concerned to implement measures that prevent such abuses in their own supply chain, but this industry’s supply chain is notoriously complex—which is one reason Transparency International has cited construction as the industry with the highest corruption risk. Companies may be able to drive human rights standards for their immediate business partners in the Gulf, but the supplier’s subcontractor’s subcontractor’s subcontractor is probably just a guy with a mobile phone, procuring workers at short notice.

Operating as a responsible construction company in this region is difficult, not only because of complicated supply chains. Beyond the normal challenges of managing the workforce, the role of the government in the economy necessitates majority local partners and can significantly reduce companies’ room for maneuver in implementing their own corporate standards.

The correlation between complex supply chains, corruption, and human rights abuses is not unique to the Gulf. In the 2008 earthquakes in Sichuan, China, thousands of school classrooms collapsed, and as many as 70,000 people died. The cause of these deaths was not the earthquakes themselves, but corruption—the schools had been built in a rush, on fault lines, and with shoddy materials that likely weren’t up to code.

Usually when discussing the links between corruption and human rights, someone will argue that corruption is one of the means by which human rights are undermined. It’s rare for corruption itself to be cast as a human rights abuse. Indeed, neither the OECD’s anti-bribery convention, nor the UN Convention Against Corruption frame corruption as a human rights violation. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not include freedom from corruption as a human right. Nor do the Sustainable Development Goals make reference to corruption, even though other goals, such as poverty elimination and universal access to energy, are impossible without sustained and robust efforts to tackle corruption.

To read the full article on BSR's website, click here.