Development, exploitation and the 2014 World Cup

2014 World cup

Caught up in the carnival atmosphere of an international sporting fixture, it is easy to forget the darker side of the industry. 2014worldcupfortourists.blogspot.com under a Creative Commons Licence

When Terry Eagleton wrote that ‘football offers its followers beauty, drama, conflict, liturgy, carnival and the odd spot of tragedy’ he was reflecting, above all, on the place of the sport in working-class cultural life in Britain. He wrote about the way that capitalism has generated carnival and entertainment as a distraction for people who might otherwise be tempted to question the established social order. His point is that what was once simply a game played by men at the end of a long working day is now intimately implicated in politics and driven by demands for profit. Football is, above all, a business, the purpose of which is to generate money for people who are already obscenely wealthy.

I was reminded of Eagleton’s comments when I read about the two Brazilian workers who died on 14 December at the construction site of what will be a World Cup football stadium in Manaus, Brazil. Employment conditions are appalling for workers and there are no rest days. The deaths of Marcleudo de Melo Ferreira, aged just 22, and Jose Antonio da Silva Nascimento, aged 49, come less than a month after two workers were killed in the Sao Paulo Stadium, where the opening ceremony for the 2014 World Cup will take place.

When Eagleton talked of the tragedy of football he was not thinking about the price being paid by workers in Brazil for commodified forms of global entertainment. But as football has become another fixture in the global economy, so the tragedies associated with it have inevitably become transnational in scope.

If these deaths tell us something about football as a facet of capitalism, they are also revealing with regard to the challenges of international development today. Traditionally, questions about the unequal distribution of global power and the place of sovereignty have been the crux of development debates.

Development has been concerned centrally with how to build post-colonial states that can establish authority and legitimacy internally, while winning the respect of other states in the international system. But what has sometimes been lost in these debates is the responsibility that state élites have in the Global South to reach a just settlement domestically, as well as calling for a new global pact of equality between states.

These days Brazil is often seen as a model for the rest of the Global South. Now the sixth-largest economy in the world, Brazil is fêted as a ‘rising power’ and its voice is increasingly prominent in international fora, from trade to the environment. Despite the major shifts in regimes in Brazil, from military to civilian, from dictatorship to democracy, Brazilian governments have consistently sought to build state capacity and, at the same time, to project the country as a regional and world leader. Manaus, the Amazonian city where the latest deaths have taken place, has a special place in the history of Brazilian attempts at global greatness. The centre of the rubber boom in the late nineteenth century, Manaus was the site of the Amazon Theatre, built to celebrate the country’s integration into the global economy through rubber exports. With the collapse of the rubber boom, the city and the theatre fell into a state of dilapidation and disrepair, only to be resurrected recently as a major tourist destination.

But behind the image of Brazil as a leading member of the developing BRICS economies, there has always been a darker side to the Brazilian miracle. The Brazilian economy has always depended on low levels of independent unionism and poor pay for local workers, whether in agriculture, industry or the growing service and entertainment sectors. Despite recent spending on welfare under Presidents Lula and Roussouff, the Brazilian economic model is still one of super-exploitation of its most vulnerable citizens.

 Jean Grugel is Professor of International Development at Sheffield University in Britain.

Internationalism is about justice – and the World Cup too

Harsh conditions for construction workers

Similar conditions are common in Qatar where the the abuse of migrant construction workers is well known. toehk under a Creative Commons Licence

In August 2013, a Singaporean employer was jailed for attacking her Filipina maid in an assault so severe it was described by the judge as ‘repugnant to all notions of a common humanity’. Recently, the plight of migrant workers employed in Qatar on construction projects for the 2022 World Cup has also been in the press. Forty-four Nepalese construction workers on World Cup sites died between June and August this year, from overwork and unsafe conditions.

Human rights abuses (sometimes) make global news headlines thanks in part to the work of activists, journalists and researchers. Because of their efforts, victories are sometimes being won that, though small, make a huge difference to the quality of people’s lives. But in the face of persistent – and deepening – global inequalities, there is still a very long way to go.

The Sheffield Institute for International Development has recently set out to reframe international development as global justice. Our starting point is that the daily absence of the building blocks for a decent life – respect, education, food security, acceptable housing, work and pay and so on – is not a failure of ‘development’ but a failure of justice. The failure is human not technical, and it is ‘addressable’ because it is not inevitable. Because it is addressable, we should have what Albert Hirschman, in his writing on Latin America, called ‘a bias for hope’.

Human rights are a vital tool for reframing international development in ways that set out our collective responsibilities to find a just global settlement. But to have traction, rights have to be understood as more than the traditional package of liberal rights. Other sorts of rights – social, economic, gendered, cultural – are also critical.

Action is needed much earlier in the life cycle of global injustice. It is not enough to protest once abuses are happening. Global justice means, above all, making arguments for urgent structural transformation to the global political economy. Why this matters is clear if we consider the abuse of migrant workers in Qatar. The inhuman conditions they currently endure were well known when the decision was taken to hold the 2022 World Cup in the state. Some 99 per cent of all workers employed in the private sector in Qatar are on temporary visas and are prevented by law from forming a trade union. FIFA cannot pretend that it was ignorant of this fact.

Events in Qatar suggest that although human rights arguments may be getting heard more than a generation ago, they are still getting heard too late. And they are certainly not shaping decision-making, whether in national or international settings. If international organizations and states do not take human rights seriously, the voices of activists will almost always be heard too late.

Framing international development as global justice means that our solidarities and our responsibilities are local as well as global. Internationalism is sometimes portrayed as caring for ‘distant others’ instead of those closer to home. Nothing could, or should, be further from the truth. Internationalism should be about challenging injustice everywhere. At home this means two things:

First, challenging simplistic and misleading dichotomies about ‘us’ and ‘them’ and countering racist views that seek to set out a view that some have more rights than others. Recent books such as David Goodhart’s The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Postwar Immigration are particularly worrying because they project an image of British people as having an innate primary ‘national’ identity based on race and culture that inevitably trumps our moral, emotional and human responsibilities to others. This ignores both the complexity of identity in Britain and the profound history of solidarity and support that Nick Dearden alludes to in his blog.

Second, it means taking seriously the injustices that happen close to home. Being an internationalist implies recognizing the immorality of welfare cuts that leave people to rely on food banks – as Oxfam does in its 2012 report ‘The Perfect Storm’, a stinging critique of the impact of the British coalition government’s budget cuts on the vulnerable and those on low incomes.

For rights to be made real, claims have to staked and arguments for justice made. Being an internationalist is about upholding those claims, engaging in debate and challenging injustice, whether on the street, in the classroom, in the press or simply among friends and family – sometimes the most difficult site of all. It is about reflecting on and prioritizing our ‘common humanity’. For an internationalist, the scales of justice must be simultaneously global and local.

Jean Grugel is Professor of International Development at Sheffield University in Britain.

The Internationalists blogging series has been timed to mark NI's 40th anniversary. Read the other blogs exploring perspectives on development and global solidarity.