In 2010, FIFA awarded the right to host the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The decision was controversial and has since been marred by allegations of corruption and the use of slave labour and unpaid migrant work in the construction of facilities for the tournament.
It has been suggested that one of the key factors that allowed Qatar to win the bid was demonstrating new technologies that would allow them to cool a stadium, and much of the credit for this goes to design engineers including some prominent UK-based companies. Their work may have been key for the Qatar World Cup to go ahead, so it is fair to question the ethics of engineers whose work has led to such controversial projects being approved.
There are several reasons that the work of engineers on projects for the Qatar World Cup can be considered ethical. Utilitarian ethics considers the potential benefit of actions for the largest number of people and argues that anything that positively affects the majority is ethical. Using this theory, the future benefits of infrastructure and potential sporting legacy could benefit a wider number of Qatari citizens than those who are currently affected by the poor working conditions. A good example of this is the construction of new public transport systems. In the short term these will help to carry large numbers of fans to the games, but in the long term better public transport can benefit isolated communities and reduce unemployment by allowing people more access to different areas. Leaving a legacy for future generations can therefore be considered an ethical reason for an engineer to work on projects that may have negative implications in the short term.
Another theory that supports engineers contributing to these projects is Kant’s duty ethics, which state that good will is the only ethical consideration that matters. In this case, if the engineers entered into their design work with good intentions and were unaware of the conditions of the workers that would eventually build them, the work was ethical. As previously stated, there are a number of positive aspects to the work being done in Qatar, and duty ethics support any engineer going into this project to deliver these positives.
Hosting a World Cup has significant benefits for a host nation, including a short-term boost to the economy and huge increases in tourism. There are also measurable benefits in unemployment after major sporting events, such as an estimated 1,000,000 jobs created in relation to the Brazilian World Cup in 2014. These benefits are not exclusively short term either, as Brunet’s 2005 study showed a constant decrease in unemployment in the 6 years after the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and another study showed that 71% of the jobs created for the 2014 World Cup were permanent. Positive changes like these are a strong argument in favour of engineers helping to design the stadia which give them an opportunity to provide lasting benefits in the region. Using Kant’s duty ethics the intention to create these benefits is a strong enough ethical argument to justify engineers working on these projects.
There are a number of reasons it is unethical for engineers to work on projects related to the Qatar World Cup. From a care ethics perspective, the engineers designing the infrastructure are connected to the workers and therefore the engineer should recognise the vulnerability of the mistreated workers and see the situation from their perspective.
It can be argued that the engineers working on this project have neglected several of the fundamental principles agreed upon in the statement of ethics published by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Engineering Council. Namely, the responsibility to work with honesty and integrity, and be alert to the ways in which their work might affect others and duly respect the rights and reputations of other parties. This places a high burden of ethics upon engineers, making them consider fully the consequences of their work.
From a utilitarian perspective the ethics of this problem is debatable. It is difficult to quantify the amount of suffering caused by this venture versus the amount of joy it will bring about. However looking at the context of the country, we see that Qatar has some of the highest income inequality in the world. It is likely that only a few people will see any real economic benefit from the world cup, whereas there are many workers that will suffer because of it. Foreign workers make up 91% of the population of Qatar and 95% of the labour force – these people are unlikely to reap the economic benefits of the World Cup due to not having citizenship, as well as working under the kafala system which opens them up to exploitation by their sponsors, who are often their employers. The engineers working in Qatar are certainly aware of this, making their actions in helping to realise the World Cup in Qatar unethical. On the other hand, many of them may be under the kafala system themselves, meaning their employers have great leverage over them. In this case their decisions may have been made under duress.
The freedom principle by John Stuart Mill counteracts utilitarianism by arguing that we must choose the action that results in most pleasure but does not conflict with human nature or dignity and it is clear that workers are being stripped of their dignity and basic human rights. Kantian ethics focuses on the motives behind actions rather than the consequences of those actions. Here the motive for the engineers is most likely to earn money. This cannot be considered a particularly ethical reason for doing something as it benefits them and is brought about at the expense of others. However, it is difficult to ascertain the engineer’s intentions as they could be working on these projects for other reasons such as coercion or caring for their families.
It is unethical for engineers to work on projects for the Qatar
1 – Nuseibeh, G; The Ethical Challenge for Qatar 2022 (2013), Harvard Ethics Blog
2 – Arup; Proof of Concept for Innovative Cooling and Climate Control Technologies – Qatar Showcase FIFA World Cup 2022
3 – Verdict; World Cup 2030: The Economic Impact of Hosting the FIFA Tournament https://www.verdict.co.uk/world-cup-2030-business-economic-impact/
4 – Brunet, F; The Economic Impact of the Barcelona Olympic Games, 1986-2004 (2005)
5 – De Aragao, M; Economic Impacts of the FIFA World Cup in Developing Countries (2015)
6 – Royal Academy of Engineering. Engineering ethics in practice: a guide for engineering. London: The Royal Academy of Engineering, 2011. https://www.raeng.org.uk/publications/other/engineering-ethics-in-practice-full
7 – Gulf Research Centre; Demography, Migration and the Labour Market in Qatar (2017)
8 – Royakkers, Lambèr , and Ibo Van de Poel . 2011. “Ethics, Technology, and Engineering : An Introduction.” 84-85. Chichester : Wiley-Blackwell.