New Swedwatch briefing calls on sport sponsors to uphold human rights
17 November 2022
Companies that use sport sponsorships to advertise their products or services have an important role to play in preventing and mitigating human rights impacts. A new briefing by Swedwatch urges these companies to learn lessons from the World Cup in Qatar by incorporating human rights in future sponsorship agreements.
The terrible situation for thousands of migrant workers making the 2022 FIFA World Cup possible has gained a lot of attention. But the debate on sports and human rights did not start with Qatar. Many major sporting events have been hosted in countries heavily criticised for their human rights record.
None of these events could have been held successfully without the many corporate actors involved; from constructions companies building the arenas and hotels, the companies in the hospitality sector that staff them, to airlines, security firms and media companies that broadcast them.
Swedwatch’s briefing zooms in on one type of corporate actor: the sport sponsors. These companies build their image and increase profits by associating their brands with sports associations, teams or events.
“Sport is also business. And sponsorship agreements are in that sense no different from other business relationships. This means that companies have a responsibility to address adverse human rights impacts connected to the sports events, teams or associations they decide to sponsor”, says Olof Björnsson, researcher at Swedwatch and author of the briefing.
Through sponsorship agreements sporting events become part of the company value chain, which means that, according to the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) companies should conduct what is called Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) to proactively assess actual and potential human rights risks – and act on these risks.
Swedwatch calls on sponsoring companies to conduct rigorous HRDD throughout the entire value chain, both during the preparation and implementation of events and in ongoing dialogue with workers and other stakeholders, including human rights defenders. Swedwatch also urges regulators to put in place binding due diligence rules that encompass sport sponsorships and can hold companies accountable in case of wrongdoing.
“Lessons must be learned from Qatar. To avoid that future sporting events are held at the expense of people in vulnerable positions, corporate sponsors must ensure that human rights play a prominent role in the preparation for and implementation of these events”, says Olof Björnsson.
Swedwatch has been working on the issue of sport sponsorship and human rights since 2014 and has published several reports and briefing papers on the subject (see “more on the topic” right).
Testimonials from migrant workers with experience from Qatar
I worked for several months without any pay (…) I had to start bringing money from Bangladesh to pay for food and accommodation. My family had to sell more land to pay for me to survive in Qatar. My family is still in debt repaying the costs of my migration. /Khalid, migrant worker from Bangladesh.
I only received EUR 190 per month in wages and no overtime. After 11 months, the company took my ID and bought me a return ticket. I did not want to go home so I ran away and hid in the jungle nearby (…) When the police caught me, I had no work permit, so I was sent home. /Mominul, migrant worker from Bangladesh.
Sponsorship agreements are in that sense no different from other business relationships. This means that companies have a responsibility to address adverse human rights impacts connected to the sports events, teams or associations they decide to sponsor.