Friday, March 21, 2014

FIFA and the international labour brokers

As Qatar scrambles to complete construction of stadia and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup, FIFA is getting splattered with a bit of bad ink.

And that's too bad, because the root problem here lies not with FIFA, nor with Qatar, but with the lack of international regulation of labour brokers.

"Labour brokers" are not a new thing. In fact, there are probably labour brokers operating in your town. You may know them as "employment agencies."

Where once your local manufactories prided themselves on having their own HR department and doing their own hiring out of the community they are a part of, it has become the norm to outsource this function to employment agencies.

Employment agencies sell the employers on this as a way to cut their costs, and in this day and age of relentless cost-cutting at all costs, this is a powerful pitch.

And whatever cost-savings this outsourcing may entail, it also serves to break the bond between employer and employee.

In the age of the globalization and commodification of everything, we shouldn't be surprised that "labour," ie "work,"  has become just another commodity to be sourced from the cheapest international supplier.

Once the employment agency has morphed into the international labour broker, the employer-employee bond has been completely crushed. There are layers of sub-brokers and sub sub-brokers between the worker and the employer. Responsibility for the welfare of the employee is easily shed amongst the many layers of brokerage that stand between a worker from Nepal or Bangladesh and a project in Qatar being administered by a general contractor from Canada or Spain or wherever.

That's why none of the feel-good campaigns to ease the plight of Cambodian or Viet Namese or Bengali garment workers ever amount to anything. Sure, we can all agree to pay another ten cents or two dollars or whatever for a T-shirt, but that money simply gets lost among the many levels of brokers long before it ever finds its way to a $37/month garment worker.

When responsibility for worker welfare is so widely diffused, we end up with a situation wherein no one is responsible.

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