Workers building venues in Russia for the upcoming Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup face "exploitation and labor abuses," Human Rights Watch (HRW) says in a new report.
In the report released on June 14, HRW says it has documented cases in which workers were not paid, worked in dangerously cold conditions, and suffered reprisals for raising concerns.
The world soccer governing body, FIFA, has "yet to fully deliver on its commitments to conduct effective monitoring of labor conditions" ahead of the two Russian-hosted tournaments, it also says.
FIFA said the scale of the allegations in the report did not correspond to their own assessment.
There was no immediate comment by Russian officials.
From June 17, Russia will host eight international soccer teams, including its own, at the Confederations Cup in four cities. The World Cup, the world's main soccer tournament, will take place in June-July 2018 at stadiums in 11 cities including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, and Sochi.
HRW's report, Red Card: Exploitation Of Construction Workers On World Cup Sites In Russia, says that workers on six World Cup stadium construction sites faced "unpaid wages either in full or part, several months' delays in payment of wages, work in temperatures as cold as -25 degrees Celsius without sufficient protections, and employers' failure to provide work contracts required for legal employment."
It also quotes the Building and Wood Workers' International union as saying that at least 17 workers have died on World Cup construction sites in Russia.
The rights group says it interviewed Russian nationals as well as foreign migrant workers from Central Asian countries, Belarus, Ukraine, and others.
They "consistently said that they were afraid to speak out about abuses, fearing reprisals from their employers," the report says, while the Russian authorities tried to intimidate HRW representatives as they attempted to speak to workers, with police detaining one researcher in the southern city of Volgograd in April.
"The apparent surveillance and detention of a Human Rights Watch researcher and pressure on workers not to report abuses suggests that those responsible for labor conditions on World Cup sites have something to hide," says Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.
The report says that FIFA announced last year it was organizing a system together with the Russian authorities to monitor labor conditions at stadiums being built or renovated.
But HRW says FIFA failed to publish "comprehensive details" of the abuses their inspectors found.
"FIFA's promise to make human rights a centerpiece of its global operations has been put to the test in Russia, and FIFA is coming up short," Buchanan says.
"There could not be a better time for FIFA to move away from the secrecy that has plagued its operations," she says.
A spokesperson for FIFA said that "incompliances with relevant labor standards continue to be found -- something to be expected in a project of this scale," according to Reuters news agency.
But "the overall message of exploitation on the construction sites portrayed by HRW does not correspond with FIFA's assessment" based on quarterly inspections by independent experts and trade union representatives, the spokesperson added.
FIFA also said that it was the Russian authorities who "ultimately have the responsibility to protect human and labor rights on their territory and ensure that construction companies are held accountable."
Russia's World Cup organizing committee did not immediately comment on the HRW report.
In May, Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko said construction at the stadium in St. Petersburg was in compliance with FIFA requirements and that workers' rights were not being violated.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters