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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
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