Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Workers from Sochi systematically exploited

Just over a week from the start of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, the event is facing another scandal. As German TV station ARD and the sports magazine ‘inside sport’ report, the workers of the Olympic construction sites in Sochi have been systematically exploited.

Apparently, thousands of workers have not or not fully been paid for their job. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has confirmed this to ARD and ‘inside sport’.

A multitude of Russian and migrant workers from Central Asia told the ARD that they are still waiting for their promised salaries. One worker called the experience in Sochi as being "modern slavery". Another worker said: "We never thought that something like this could happen on such internationally important construction sites such as the Olympic ones. We have worked hard, but how should we get our money?"

Semjon Simonov, Sochi representative of the highly acknowledged human rights non-governmental organisation (NGO), Memorial, for the first time classified the dimension of the problem. He confirmed the findings of ARD and ‘inside sport’ in respect to over 100,000 workers in Sochi, saying: "Ninety per cent of all workers on Olympic construction sites in Sochi have either not received any salary at all, or not the full amount. The Olympics have only been made possible through the efforts of these workers. But they were not even given documentation necessary to work and in the end, they were forced to leave the country without their money."

Many of the Sochi workers were from countries within Cental Asia, estimated to number over 50,000 workers. A reporter of ARD and ‘inside sport’ has been to Tajikistan, being the first international journalist to do research about the problem in the region where most Sochi workers come from, according to international NGOs such as Human Rights Watch.

In the last few years, several NGOs including Human Rights Watch have reported about the exploitation of workers, but nothing has since been done by international bodies. In the ARD programme, multiple workers accuse the Russian state owned company Olimpstroi, which was responsible for the Olympic construction process. One Tajik worker says: "When we wanted our money we were told that Olimpstroi hasn't paid yet." Olimpstroi - as well as the Organising Committee of the 2014 Sochi Games - refused to comment to ARD and ‘inside sport’.

The IOC stated that 13 companies in retrospect have now paid salaries of approximately €6 million (US$8 million). Although asked by ARD and ‘inside sport’, the IOC didn't say when and how the payment was made, bearing in mind that most workers were not registered and don't even have a back account.

The Chairwoman of the human rights committee of the European Parliament, Barbara Lochbihler, called the ARD findings and the exploitation of the workers a "scandal". "The IOC can't go on like nothing has happened. They should have reacted earlier on this issue. It is now absolutely necessary that the IOC, the Russian government, as well as the engaged companies show responsibility."

 

Florian Bauer
ARD German TV
florian.bauer@fm.wdr.de


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