Friday, August 26, 2016


HRW Criticizes Exploitation At Russian Olympic Construction Sites

Migrant workers at an Olympic construction site in the Imereti Valley near Sochi.
Migrant workers at an Olympic construction site in the Imereti Valley near Sochi.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says migrant laborers working at Winter Olympic construction sites in Sochi, Russia, have been exploited by their employers.

In a new report, HRW says some employers cheated workers out of their salaries, required 12-hour work shifts with few days off, and confiscated passports, apparently to force workers to remain in exploitative jobs.

Yulia Gorbunova, an HRW researcher in Moscow, tells RFE/RL the report, "Race To The Bottom," is based on interviews with 67 migrants from Armenia, Central Asia, Serbia, and Ukraine employed on Olympic and other construction sites in Sochi.

Nearly all of them were engaged in low-paying jobs, working as carpenters, welders, and steel fitters.

"We found that dozens of these workers suffered abuse and exploitation while they were employed on key Olympic venues," she says. "Abuses and exploitation such as failure to pay wages, excessively delaying payment of wages, excessive working hours, failure to provide labor contracts, [and] poor working conditions."

The report says laborers lived in overcrowded accommodations and received inadequate food. In some cases, they were not paid for several months.

One worker told HRW that he lived in a single-family house along with some 200 other migrant laborers. The accommodation was provided by their employers.

Lack Of Information

The report says a number of factors, including inadequate knowledge of the Russian language, residency status issues, and the fear of facing fines or expulsions make foreign workers particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Farrukh Mirov, a Tajik migrant laborer in Sochi, says that in some cases migrants in the city have fallen victim to subcontractors who "take advantage of foreign workers' lack of knowledge of Russian regulations."

"Because they don't know the regulations, some migrant workers turn to middlemen and subcontractors," Mirov says. "There are many migrants who don't know anything about job contracts. There were cases when middlemen brought them to work at the Olympic site and promised them to pay for their work. But after working for a few months, the migrants didn't get paid and were not able to find the middlemen who brought them to [Sochi]."

HRW says many migrants speak limited Russian and have limited contact with Russian civil society or other resources that can provide assistance.

Retaliation By Employers

According to HRW, some employers retaliated against workers who demanded their unpaid salaries and protested against the abuses. The rights watchdog says that, in several cases, employers reported the workers to authorities, which resulted in the workers' expulsion from Russia.

HRW is calling on Russian authorities and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to take measures to put an end to the abuse of migrant workers.

Gorbunova says HRW is urging Russian authorities to remove "any obstacles that exist for migrant workers to make their status in Russia lawful."

"There have to be effective complaint mechanisms accessible to migrant workers that should not be conditional upon their contractual status or migration status," she says.

HRW is calling on the IOC to "make a strong statement about respect for human dignity by publicly calling on the Russian authorities to put an end to worker exploitation."

RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: from: USA
February 06, 2013 13:22
Oh come on. Migrant workers are present everywhere. The only time any external forces get concerned are when they're being used to work on something that will be in the international public eye, like the structures for the Olympics. I haven't seen anything else about the large number of migrant workers elsewhere in Russia...

by: Mark from: Victoria
February 08, 2013 03:49
Taking advantage of migrant workers is reprehensible; forced labour and confiscation of workers' passports are certainly not examples of the sort of humane practices the world wants to see from Russia. What? I'm busy here, can it wait? What?? Oh, dear. Those practices actually took place in the UK, as reflected in a report prepared by the Trades Union Congress in 2005,

the year after 23 Chinese migrants drowned in Morecambe Bay, where they had been sent to pick cockles in the sand to sell to fish markets and were trapped by a rising tide.

I must have missed the Human Rights Watch report on that one, scourging Britain for its callous attitude toward helpless migrant workers and the terrible treatment they receive, including forced labour and withholding of their passports.
In Response

by: Oscar from: London
February 08, 2013 08:37
Mark, you are absolutely right that migrant workers are exploited everywhere. However, in the UK, at least there IS a TUC to draw attention to the practice, as you point out. The Morecambe Bay disaster led directly to legislation to licence gangmasters:
Picking cockles is not a national prestige project, and UK gangmasters and exploiters aren't part of the parasitic network of state-criminal corruption as they are in Russia. The article you quote shows that people went to prison for what happened in Morecambe Bay. Unlikely in Sochi, or do you disagree?
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
February 08, 2013 13:49
As it happens, yes, I do. Russia is far from perfect, but it is far from as bad as it is made to appear, and outrage over the exploitation of migrant workers in Britain is both short-lived and non-educational, since it continues to happen.

My point is that the outrage now is just part of a cynical effort to build international support for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics, which is based purely on power politics and reflects no genuine concern for the plight of migrant workers.

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