Rights group calls for Tokyo 2020 worker safety probe

The Centre for Sport and Human Rights has joined calls for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo 2020 to investigate worker safety at venues being developed for next year’s Olympic Games.

Tokyo 2020 has come under scrutiny following the publication of a report by the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) union last month entitled ‘The Dark Side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics’.

In the report, BWI claimed that almost half of the workers it interviewed did not hold formal contracts, adding it found “dangerous patterns of overwork” at both the New National Stadium, which is set to serve as the centrepiece of Tokyo’s Games, and the Olympic Village.

Some workers at the Olympic Village reported working 28 consecutive days, and up to 26 straight at the National Stadium (pictured in February). The Japanese government in April relaxed restrictions on foreign workers residing in the country. BWI said about 55,000 migrant workers are employed in the construction sector, with their wages about half to one-third of those paid to locals.

Qatar has previously fallen under the spotlight of labour unions, with local authorities and FIFA working to implement reforms amid the vast infrastructure development taking place in the country ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Mary Harvey, CEO of the Geneva-based Centre for Sport and Human Rights, told the Associated Press news agency that she wanted to assist the IOC “given our work and key learning from construction-related risks in Qatar.”

She added: “To think this is going away is burying your head in the sand, and I’m concerned it’s going to get worse. The heat of the summer months is upon us while construction deadlines are trying to be met. Someone dying or committing suicide shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone.

“Everyone should be taking a serious look at the risks identified in BWI’s report and, by everyone, I mean everyone who is a stakeholder, including the IOC, the Japanese government and construction companies.”

The National Stadium is being overseen by government body the Japan Sport Council, while the Olympic Village is being developed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Tokyo 2020, the city government and the Japan Sport Council said they have asked BWI “to provide more detailed information.” In a joint statement they added it is “difficult to confirm the facts only with information contained in the currently published report.”

BWI general secretary, Ambet Yuson, said the case needs “to be elevated to the IOC. We need to see what they will do about Tokyo and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.”

While crediting Japan with having a “strong, organised labour system,” Yuson said Japanese officials are in denial that problems exist. He added: “They take pride in their own system. So being told they need to make sure they are up to the international level is different. They say: ‘No, we are at the international level.’ But migrant workers are something they don’t know.”

Image: Tokyo 2020