Jason Ben Nathan /Sun Senior Photographer

Members of COLA placing soccer balls and delivering a letter to the president's office. Matthew DiSegano '20 reading the letter in Day Hall on Thursday, November 10.

November 10, 2016

Students Protest Labor Violations at Qatar World Cup Site

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Amnesty International at Cornell and Cornell Organization for Labor Action delivered a letter to Interim President Hunter Rawlings Thursday, continuing the group’s protest of labor abuses in Qatar, where Cornell has a campus, by focusing on the World Cup 2022 construction sites in Doha.

The cross-campus coalition, started by AI-CU, now represents 10 student groups at nine different universities that have satellite campuses in Qatar, according to Christopher Hanna ’18, co-facilitator of AI-CU.

The coalition requests that university presidents pool their leverage and demand that Qatari authorities implement a comprehensive labor reform plan to improve conditions for World Cup workers before construction peaks in mid-2017, according to the letter.

“This initiative is important because it’s about upholding what Cornell stands for,” said Kyla Chasalow ’18, member of AI-CU. “When our University is directly involved in an area where there are human rights abuses, we have a responsibility to do what we can to act against that.”

Amnesty International reported that migrant workers involved in the development of World Cup infrastructure are “treated like cattle” by their employers and face “withheld wages” and “squalid living conditions.” The International Trade Union Confederation also projected that at least 4,000 workers would die from poor conditions “before a ball is kicked” at the 2022 tournament.

Hanna added that preventable work-related incidents are occurring within a few miles of the Weill Cornell Medical College campus in Doha.

“Cornell holds considerable institutional and financial power,” he said. “It would be unfortunate if our administration squanders that power when it matters the most.”

After reading the letter aloud, the groups distributed inflatable soccer balls and quarter cards around administrative offices in Day Hall.

“It was a very constructive action that demonstrated solidarity among a lot of groups and individuals on campus,” Hanna said. “I expect the response to be constructive and affirmative, because the presidents of Cornell in the past have signaled a willingness to work with us over human rights issues.”

Hanna said the coalition is seeking to educate Cornellians in upcoming weeks, in order to better inform and engage members of the community about the issues at stake in Qatar. He added that creating a petition would allow more students to participate in the initiative.

“The fact that this campaign involves coordinated actions by students from four countries speaks to its potential to bring about real change,” he said. “We believe in the power of collective action and think that there is a role for students in social change.”