Sponsors must act on human rights risks

REPORT | 12 June 2018

Companies that sponsor the Swedish Football Association need to act on human rights risks associated with big championships, a Swedwatch biefing shows. Although some progress has been made at policy level, it is crucial that the sponsors account for measures taken to map and address such risks.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia will be played amidst increasing oppression and growing restrictions on fundamental freedoms in the country. Recent reports have also outlined violations on human rights directly associated with the preparations for the World Cup, such as unpaid labour and unsafe working conditions. As of April 2018, 21 workers have allegedly died while working at Russian World Cup sites.

Swedwatch’s latest briefing reviews measures taken by sponsors of the Swedish Football Association (SvFF) to address human rights risks associated with the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It argues that when a company enters a sponsorship agreement with a national sports association, the championships that the national teams play in become part of that company’s value chain. Thus, as stated in the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), corporate sponsors have a responsibility to address associated human rights risks and impacts.

The briefing reviews developments since Swedwatch previous studies conducted in 2014, and notes improvements in efforts to manage human rights risks among Swedish sponsors. Most notably, all companies that took part in the study’s survey have adopted human rights policies that extend to their sports sponsorships. Research findings in 2014, showed that none of the then investigated companies had such policies in place.

However, despite abundant and well-documented human rights risks associated with the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the briefing points to considerable gaps between policy and practice, especially with regards to sponsors using their leverage over SvFF to prevent and mitigate specific human rights impacts.

The briefing recommends that all corporate sponsors of national sports associations conduct proper mapping and analysis of actual and potential human rights impacts associated with championships in which their national teams are taking part. Sponsors should also act on these findings, for example through encouraging sports associations to raise the identified human rights impacts with its international counterparts. If the company has insufficient influence over the national sports association, it should seek to increase its leverage by cooperating with other sponsors on human rights issues.

Furthermore, sponsors should account for how they address human rights risks, in accordance with the concept “know and show”, also outlined in the UNGPs. Despite this principle, only 7 out of 13 corporate sponsors that Swedwatch approached for this study chose to take part.

In 2022, the FIFA World Cup will be played in Qatar where severe human rights violations against migrant workers tasked with constructing stadiums, hotels and training facilities are well-known. Provided that Sweden qualifies for this championship, Qatar will constitute a serious test for Swedish corporate sponsors with regards to identifying – and acting on –human rights