Why what FIFA does is about more than just Football

Why what FIFA does is about more than just Football

April 27, 2016

Harvard Professor John Ruggie’s report, “For the Game for the World – FIFA and Human Rights” will have a profound effect on global sport because as night follows day, other international sports federations will follow FIFA’s reforms.

Ruggie has a track record of encouraging change. Since he authored the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), businesses around the world have been far more proactive than governments in implementing those principles. 

Last year Unilever became the first multinational to report publicly on their own UNGP human rights outcomes, a global first and a milestone in terms of pushing other companies to do the same. With 172,000 employees, 76,000 suppliers and operations in more than 190 countries, reporting on human rights issues – from procurement through to legal and environmental concerns – isn’t simple but as an early adopter, Unilever is literally changing the landscape and it’s clear others, like mobile giant Ericsson, are already following. Three years ago Unilever took the unprecedented step of inviting Oxfam investigators in to review workers’ rights in their Vietnam operations. 

While disappointed with the NGO’S findings, Unilever chief executive Paul Polman admitted his company has a lot of work to do and saw the publication of the report as a way to stimulate debate and encourage other companies to follow their lead.

Last week Nestle stepped right up to the mark and produced an outstanding report “Nestle in society Creating Shared Value and meeting our commitments 2015.” This is the sort of report we might come to expect from FIFA some time in the future. It outlines the salient human rights risks confronting Nestle and tells you exactly what Nestle is doing about them. 

Coca-Cola recently produced a human rights App outlining how it is implementing the UNGP, NGOs have welcomed the company’s willingness to be monitored on a range of measures including the land rights of indigenous and poor communities.  Oxfam has publicly noted that it’s not an easy path Coca-Cola is taking however they encouraged the company to stick with it and make corrections when needed.  So it comes as no surprise that as a key football sponsor, Coca-Cola has put the pressure on FIFA to reform. 

However FIFA itself also needs to take some credit in terms of pushing its own human rights agenda. The Carrard report on internal FIFA Governance and accountability were approved at the Extraordinary FIFA Congress in February 2016 with a new human rights clause added to its own statute: “FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights.”

Throughout 2015, FIFA was also sounding out Professor Ruggie and Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Ruggie was asked to advise on the wording for the revision of the FIFA Statute and on the 2026 World Cup Bidding Requirements. FIFA also asked him to publish a comprehensive and independent public report on what FIFA needed to do to “embed respect for human rights across the full range of it activities and relationships.”

In his report, Ruggie says: “FIFA is to be commended for making this initial commitment to human rights. In doing so, it leapfrogs other major international sports organisations. The scale of FIFA’s global activities and relationships means that acting on its commitments has the potential to be a landmark for advancing human dignity through sports around the world. But to borrow François Carrard’s words again, in this effort too, “FIFA has a long road ahead.”

That long road ahead will include football organisations in New Zealand including the Oceania Football Confederation and New Zealand Football and its members. The FIFA reforms will be followed by other major sports sooner or later and one hope sooner.

No sports organisation is immune to the human rights risks identified in Ruggie’s report. They could be event related sources of human rights risk, systemic human rights risks like discrimination, player trafficking or human rights procurement risks. Professor Ruggie also makes the point that “expanding FIFA institutional capacity at political and administrative levels will be critical if it is to reach its new human rights commitments.” That is about getting the foundational basics right.

Football has led sport in areas like anti-racism, opposing discrimination and promoting sport for development with programs like OFC’s “Just Play”.  Now it’s football’s chance to play leapfrog and implement the Ruggie recommendations.  

Read the report

For the Game for the World – FIFA and Human Rights (PDF)

David Rutherford, Chief Human Rights Commissioner

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David Rutherford was appointed Chief Human Rights Commissioner on September 2011. Prior to his appointment, he was the managing director of Special Olympics Asia Pacific and based in Singapore.

He has held senior executive roles in building materials and agribusiness businesses operating in New Zealand and Australia, has been chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Union and has worked as a corporate, securities and commercial lawyer in New Zealand and Canada.