The Qatar World Cup Chief, Hassan Al-Thawadi, estimated that 400-500 migrant workers died while working on projects related to the World Cup since winning the bid to host 12 years ago.

Al-Thawadi first declared a death toll as low as three work-related deaths and 37 non-work-related deaths because Qatar was only evaluating worker deaths as they pertained to constructing the stadiums. Only when Morgan pushed him on the realistic death toll as it related to all kinds of preparations for the World Cup, including accommodations and infrastructure, did Al-Thawadi arrive at his much higher estimation.

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“The estimate is around 400, between 400 and 500,” Al-Thawadi told Piers Morgan. “I don’t have the exact number. That’s something that’s being discussed.”

Last year, The Guardian reported that 6,500 South Asian migrant workers had died since 2010, when Qatar won the World Cup bid. The report did not connect all 6,500 deaths to specific World Cup projects but said it was the total death toll for this category of low-wage workers.

Al-Thawadi said the World Cup helped catalyze labor reform and enforcement of proper labor practices as Qatar prepared for a higher degree of scrutiny.

“The improvements that have happened isn’t because of the World Cup, these are improvements that we knew we had to do because of our own values,” Al-Thawadi said.

Al-Thawadi cited the dismantling of the kafala system, a sponsorship system that can lead to forced labor, as one of the many improvements made by Qatar during this period.

Qatar became the first country in the Arab Gulf to allow migrant workers to change jobs before the end of a contract without requiring employer consent, a key characteristic of the former kafala system. Qatar also set a minimum wage for migrant workers, becoming the second Arab Gulf country to do so.

According to Human Rights Watch, the country has vastly improved its treatment of migrant workers, but avenues for exploitation and abuse still exist.

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