World Cup, Forced Labor and Trafficking: Learn More and Make a Difference

The 2014 World Cup gets started in Brazil on June 12. Sports fans around the world, including me, are getting ready and excited, looking over schedules, figuring out how to sneak out of work or peek at their phones to take in matches, and getting up to speed on who's made the final cut. Events like the World Cup and the Olympics put a spotlight on some of our best qualities as an international community -- the excitement of sport and learning about other cultures, teamwork, and the search for excellence.

But June 12 also marks another event. It's the International Labour Organization's World Day Against Child Labour. Sadly, child labor and trafficking in persons highlight the dark side of these international competitions. Exploitation of construction workers building stadiums and children making soccer balls or other sport-related goods are examples of these kinds of abuses.

So it's crucial we think about ways to improve human rights for all workers as we take in the thrill and excitement of events like the World Cup and Olympics. Trafficking in persons is rooted in people experiencing coercion and a climate of fear in their work, across a variety of usually low-wage industries. Traffickers use tactics including violence, non-payment, isolation, and threats of workers being reported to police or immigration officials.

There were widespread reports of trafficking and forced labor in construction for the Olympics in Sochi and similar reports are coming in with regard to construction underway in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. And as for child labor, there is a history of children producing World Cup soccer balls over the last few decades, and involvement in construction as well. There have been efforts to clean up these forms of child labor, but it's not at all clear they've been completely successful.

Add to this, all the noise coming out of Brazil around investing in soccer stadiums rather than long-term community and environmental health, and we have a complicated mix of human rights concerns coming out up front with the 2014 World Cup.

On a trip home to visit my family, we were talking about this issue, with a sense of, "This is the way it ever was." But my 14 year-old nephew and 17 year-old niece, huge soccer fans who are going to Brazil this summer, both to play soccer in youth tournaments and to check out World Cup matches as spectators, were horrified. My nephew even asked why the United Nations isn't taking care of this -- and why we don't hear more about this?

Their response is the right one, and they are asking the questions we all should be asking.

With that in mind, let's talk about what we, as soccer fans around the world, can do to make some noise about labor rights and abuse of the very workers who make events like the World Cup and Olympics possible.

The most important targets for people who want to make change are FIFA, FIFA USA, and IOC, the International Olympic Committee.

And international trade unions are leading the way. They've put in place a number of "Red Card" campaigns, referring to the red card given in soccer when a player gets kicked out of the game for bad behavior.

Campaigns you can get involved in include:

2. The International Trade Union Confederation has a Play Fair Campaign targeting abuses in construction and in production of sporting goods and clothing. Follow them on Twitter @PlayFairGlobal.

3. The above-mentioned ILO Red Card to Child Labour Campaign is using the hashtag #RedCard.

Other avenues to advocate for change include:

1. The International Labour Organization, in addition to its campaign against child labor, can bring cases in countries. That's an area to place pressure.

2. You can also call for the U.S. State Department to call out countries for World Cup and Olympics related abuses in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report.

3. Demand that governments offer more substantial help to their citizens in other countries is also important. They can offer political pressure, travel documents, know-your-rights training, and basic advocacy.

And finally, learn more by checking out these sources:

1. The International Labor Rights Forum has information about workers rights in a variety of countries and industries.

2. Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing documents the impact of international events on workers around the world.

3. Dave Zirin of The Nation has a new book out about the politics around international sporting events, focusing on Brazil.

We don't have to feel helpless in the face of human rights abuses and exploitation of workers around the world. As sports fans, we can and should leverage our passion for the game to demand human rights for all, so we can feel proud as we gather as an international community to root for our teams.