More than 100 North Koreans are living in shipping containers while finishing the Zenit Arena in Russia
Migrant workers living in slave-like conditions are labouring for hours on end, with only short breaks, in extreme weather conditions and living in shipping containers in order to finish a stadium for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, according to a Norwegian magazine.
While similar claims have previously been levelled against 2022 hosts Qatar, Norwegian football magazine Josimar has published new allegations about the Zenit Arena in the article The Slaves of St Petersburg.
According to journalist Håvard Melnæs, at least 110 North Koreans have toiled at the ground, also known as the Krestovsky Stadium, in order to finally finish the long delayed arena.
A project manager, identified only as Pavel, reportedly told the magazine that he had been offered a staff of 100 North Koreans who would work “around the clock” until the end of the year. Their service would cost the construction company 6m₽ (€95,000), of which two thirds of the money would go back to North Korean authorities.
Each of the North Korean workers would receive 600₽ a day (less than €9.50).
Pavel claims that he personally declined the offer, but that two other subcontractors working on the stadium, which was originally supposed to be complete by December 2008, agreed to the terms. Josimar now alleges that more than 100 North Korean nationals are living in shipping containers, surrounded by barbed-wire fences and under constant surveillance.
The Zenit Arena labourers are not the only North Koreans forced to work in Russia, with the stadium workers part of a nationwide practice that has been widely condemned by international human rights watchdogs. The United Nationals also condemned the practice last October, with the Irish delegation included in those calling out “the exploitation of workers sent abroad from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to work under conditions that reportedly amount to forced labour.”
It is claimed by human rights watchdogs that almost 100,000 North Koreans have been shipped off to 40 countries around the world as indentured labourers, with the €180m generated from the practice fuelling North Korea’s current missile tests and nuclear ambitions.
The national football federations of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland, after reading the Josimar article, wrote to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, asking for his reaction to the news that at least four workers had died in on-site accidents and that a fifth had suffered a fatal heart attack.
In his response, Infantino acknowledged that there had indeed been abuses of human rights at the FIFA 2018 World Cup ground and that the North Korean’s working conditions were “often appalling.”
Earlier this year, Infantino announced that from 2026, the quadrennial footballing event would expand by adding an extra 16 teams to the competition. The international federation also has forecast that next summer’s World Cup will bring in $5.5bn in revenue based on sponsorship, ticket sales, and international broadcasting deals.