Since the official announcement on 13 September 2017 that Paris will host the 2024 Summer Olympics, the French government has been coordinating a massive effort to transform the City of Lights to accommodate the Olympic crowds. The government, however, is relying on subpar solutions to infrastructure problems. Instead of constructing a dozen brand-new stadiums, officials have chosen to depend on temporary or ageing structures for the remaining venues.
The festive atmosphere that has swept Paris since the announcement was first made has likely contributed to the pain of those facing injustice, such as the already vulnerable population of migrant workers, whose rights have been repeatedly violated by the French authorities.
During a February visit to the enormous Olympic Village construction site in Seine-Saint-Denis, staffed by over 3,000 individuals, officials from the company responsible for delivering the infrastructure proclaimed with pride, "The serenity that pervades this site is the result of a strong social ambition—namely, to be an exemplary construction site in terms of a charitable approach". Yet according to L’Équipe’s reports, the human rights situation for labourers at this specific site is bleak. For the migrant workers constructing this 300,000-square-meter construction site, the outlook is not optimistic.
Recently, controversy has arisen regarding reports of human rights violations committed against migrant workers on the construction site, 12 of whom are Malian. The workers have reported many violations of their rights under international law.
The migrants’ accusations have been investigated in order to collect information. The inquiry obtained several documents—contracts, pay stubs, bank transactions, and films, which were then handed to the authorities. Unbelievably, one of the migrant employees revealed to French authorities that the illegal workers are instructed to hide in the kitchen so as not to be discovered whenever inspectors visit. One migrant, Haroun, chose to speak out publicly this time, saying:
"I was advised that there would be inspections. When there are inspectors [present], we are always given advance notice. Typically, we are instructed to visit a pub and return later or to withhold our true identities if questioned. However, I refused to leave this time, and explained everything to the inspection officer".
After conducting an extensive investigation, CGT trade unionists discovered a "shocking situation" via a "very thorough inquiry." In one instance, it was discovered that a single sponsor claimed to employ a group of these workers, although they were actually employed by many companies (about 15 in total).
Haroun helped construct the town for Olympic athletes. In his testimony he said that during one of his February shifts, a concrete slab fell on his face, causing it to be badly cut. “At my request, a manager brought me to an office where I was provided with first aid”, said Haroun. “That's it. 2pm to 3pm. Due to soreness and confusion, I was unable to resume my work”. He was told that he couldn't call the hospital once he returned home; that night, though, he went to the hospital. "When I should have slept the next day, I had to return to work”, he said. “However, I couldn’t afford not to [work]”.
"It felt perilous”, said Haroun: “We learned how to operate nacelles without a license. We were recently advised to speed up our pace because we had fallen behind. As a result, we often worked till 8pm rather than 5pm for weeks, without compensation. ‘We cannot pay you. You're in a jam. Accept it’, [was the message communicated to us]".
Despite the renowned "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" motto expressed in the French Declaration of Human Rights and the French Constitution, there is no social and economic equality there, and discrimination has become a severe issue. Almost every year, the French Parliament passes new legislation to promote workplace equality; these new rules are influenced by enforceable European and international legislation outside of France. Still, the pension issue remains a burning desire in the hearts of workers. The situation turned violent this past International Labour Day, on 1st May. About 50 demonstrators were injured during clashes with capital police.
"It is important to show Macron and the whole political world that we are prepared to defend our social rights," said demonstrator Joshua Antunes, 19. The situation would not have been exacerbated if the French administration had settled pension issues through worker-friendly policies.
After taking into account all the gruesome situations facing migrant workers in France ahead of 2024 Paris Olympics, it is of utmost urgency that the French government should formulate concrete policies to ensure the human rights of migrant workers. These workers’ social status must be uplifted by providing them with access to justice and inculcating mainstream society with values of respect and equality. Special policies should be enforced that increase workers’ minimum salaries and are backed by wage protection laws.
Furthermore, companies, and contractors should make labour reforms with the guidelines of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), UN Human Rights Declaration, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) in mind. The sooner they adopt these reforms, the better it will be for all people—labourers, athletes, and spectators local and global—and the more possible it will be for France to host an uninterrupted 2024 Olympics in Paris.