Friday, December 9, 2022
FIFA, ESG, and BS
I'm a huge football fan. I mean real football-- what people in the US call soccer. I went to Brazil for the World Cup in 2014 twice and have watched as many matches on TV as I could during the last tournament and this one. In some countries, over half of the residents watch the matches when their team plays even though most matches happen during work hours or the middle of the night in some countries. NBC estimates that 5 billion people across the world will watch this World Cup with an average of 227 million people a day. For perspective, roughly 208 million people, 2/3 of the population, watched Superbowl LVI in the US, which occurs on a Sunday.
Football is big business for FIFA and for many of its sponsors. Working with companies such as Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai / KIA, Visa, McDonald's, and Budweiser has earned nonprofit FIFA a record 7.5 billion in revenue for this Cup. Fortunately for Budweiser, which paid 75 million to sponsor the World Cup, Qatar does not ban alcohol. But in a plot twist, the company had to deal with a last-minute stadium ban. FIFA was more effective in Brazil, which has banned beer in stadiums since 2003 to curb violence. The ban was temporarily lifted during the 2014 Cup. I imagine this made Budweiser very happy. I know the fans were.
This big business is a big part of the reason that FIFA has been accused of rampant corruption in the award of the Cup to Russia and Qatar, two countries with terrible human rights records. The Justice Department investigated and awarded FIFA hundreds of millions as a victim of its past leadership's actions related to the 2018 and 2022 selections. Amnesty International has called these games the "World Cup of Shame" because of the use of forced labor, exorbitant recruitment fees, seizure of passports, racism, delayed payments of $220 per month, and deaths. Raising even more awareness, more than 40 million people have watched comedian John Oliver's 2014 , 2015, and 2022 takedowns of FIFA.
The real victims of FIFA's corruption are the millions of migrant workers operating under Qatar's kafala system. I remember sitting at a meeting at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva when an NGO accused the Qatar government of using slaves to build World Cup Stadiums. I also remember both FIFA and the International Olympic Committee pledging to consider human rights when selecting sites in the future. Indeed, FIFA claims that human rights were a "key factor" when choosing the Americas to host the 2026 Cup.
With all of the talk about ESG including human rights and anti-discrimination from FIFA, Coca Cola, Budweiser and others related to the World Cup, how do those pronouncements square with FIFA's ban on team captains wearing the One Love Rainbow Arm Band? Qatar has banned same sex relations so seven EU team captains had planned to wear the arm bands as a gesture to "send a message against discrimination of any kind as the eyes of the world fall on the global game." This was on brand with FIFA 's own strong and repeated statements against racism after several African players suffered from taunts and chants from fans in stadiums. FIFA reiterated its stance after the death of George Floyd. Just today, FIFA issued another statement against discrimination, noting that over 55% of players received some kind of discriminatory online abuse during the Euro 2020 Final and AFCON 2022 Final.
It's curious then that despite FIFA's and the EU team's pledges about anti-discrimination, just three hours before a match, the teams confirmed that they would not wear the arm bands after all. Apparently, they learned that players could face yellow card sanctions if they wore them. Qatar also bans advocacy and protests about same sex relationships. Unlike the stadium beer ban, this wasn't new.
And the human rights abuse allegations against FIFA aren't new. I've blogged about FIFA and the issues I encountered when meeting human rights activists in Brazil several times including here. So I will end with the questions I asked years ago about FIFA and its sponsors and add the answers as I know them today.
1) Is FIFA, the nonprofit corporation, really acting as a quasi-government and if so, what are its responsibilities to protect and respect local communities under UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights? Answer: FIFA has pledged to comport with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, but its arm band ban shows otherwise.
2) Does FIFA have more power than the host country and will it use that power when it requires voters to consider a bidding country’s human rights record in the future? Answer: See the answer to #3. Also, it will be interesting to see what FIFA demands of 2026 host Florida, a state which is divesting of funds with a focus on ESG and which has proposed anti-ESG legislation.
3) If Qatar remains the site of the 2022 Cup after the various bribery and human rights abuse investigations, will FIFA force that country to make concessions about alcohol and gender roles to appease corporate sponsors? Answer: Nope
4) Will/should corporate sponsors feel comfortable supporting the Cup in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 given those countries’ records and the sponsors’ own CSR priorities? Answer: Yep, despite public statements to the contrary. It's just too lucrative.
5) Does FIFA’s antidiscrimination campaign extend beyond racism to human rights or are its own actions antithetical to these rights? Answer: Yes the campaign does but again, the arm band ban shows otherwise.
6) Are the sponsors commenting publicly on the protests and human right violations? Should they and what could they say that has an impact? Should they have asked for or conducted a social impact analysis or is their involvement as sponsors too attenuated for that? Answer: Amnesty International is seeking corporate support for compensation reform, but hasn't been very successful.
7) Should socially responsible investors ask questions about whether companies could have done more for local communities by donating to relevant causes as part of their CSR programs? Answer: In my view, yes. The UN has guidance on this as well.
8) Are corporations acting as "bystanders", a term coined by Professor Jena Martin? Answer: Yes.
9) Is the International Olympic Committee, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, taking notes? Answer: Yes. Despite or perhaps because of the outrage over selecting China for the Olympics, the IOC has recently approved a Strategic Framework on Human Rights.
10) Do consumers, the targets of creative corporate commercials and viral YouTube videos, care about any of this? Answer: It depends on the demographics, but I would say no. How do I know this? Because I teach and write about business and human rights and I have still scheduled my grading of exams and meetings around the World Cup. Advertisers can't miss out on having 25% of the world's eyeballs on their products. And FIFA knows that the human rights noise will all go away for most fans as soon as the referee blows the whistle to start the match.
In any event, my business and human rights students will enjoy grappling with the ugly side of the beautiful game next semester as we work on proposals for the city of Miami to live up to its 2021 commitments to human rights whether FIFA does or not.