Report: Workers exploited in Sochi

Feb. 6, 2013 at 3:36 PM

SOCHI, Russia, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- The Russian government must monitor the working conditions of migrants building facilities for next year's Winter Olympics, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

The organization released a 67-page report, "Race to the Bottom: Exploitation of Migrant Workers Ahead of Russia's 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi." It said workers report being defrauded of wages they have earned and forced to work 12-hour days. The workers also allege employers have taken their passports and other papers to keep them from leaving.

"Like the athletes competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics, Russia has big hopes and dreams for its performance in Sochi as the host," said Jane Buchanan,the group's associate Europe and Central Asia director and author of the report. "But exploiting workers is a victory for no one, and Russia urgently needs to change course."

The report said about 16,000 immigrants have come to Sochi to transform the Black Sea resort into a suitable venue for the Olympics. Their countries of origin include Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Serbia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.

The group said it interviewed 66 workers, who generally reported that wages are low and hours long. One man from Uzbekistan, "Omurbek," said he had been promised $770 a month to work on the building that will house journalists during the Olympics.

"I worked for almost three months ... for nothing. Nothing but promises, promises from them," Omurbek told Human Rights Watch.

Buchanan said the International Olympic Committee must put pressure on Russia.

"As the IOC meets in Sochi this week to celebrate the one-year countdown to the 2014 Winter Games, it has a chance to make a strong statement about respect for human dignity by publicly calling on the Russian authorities to put an end to worker exploitation," she said.

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