Preparations for this year’s World Cup have shone a light on the ugly side of the beautiful game, with reports of trafficking, forced labour and unjust working conditions affecting workers in Qatar, the host country.

In response, International Justice Mission (IJM) UK, Tearfund and Compassion have teamed up to launch Justice United, an initiative encouraging churches to help protect people at risk of exploitation around the world through organising World Cup-themed awareness and fundraising events.

They are seeking to raise awareness of the fact that forced labour and other types of exploitation happen everywhere – not only in Qatar – and to take positive action to stop it.

In 2022, the world is at a critical juncture in the journey towards eradicating slavery, with the situation rapidly getting worse. According to recently released figures from the International Labour Organization, 28 million people around the world are now trapped in forced labour, an increase of 2.7 million since 2016 – an increase which the ILO attributes to the combined effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, conflict and climate change.

Forced labour is a form of modern slavery which includes forced work in construction, hotels and other industries connected with sporting events. One key driver of slavery is poverty, as it makes people vulnerable to false offers of work, which traffickers use to trap them in exploitative situations. Worryingly, for the first time in decades, the number of people living in extreme poverty globally is increasing, meaning that now is a crucial time to intervene and protect them from exploitation.

Whilst the World Cup has put a spotlight on exploitation in Qatar, the reality is that forced labour and other forms of slavery happen everywhere. It’s rife in the supply chains of the smartphones we check the latest scores on, and of the clothes we wear.

To give just one example of what forced labour slavery looks like today, when Chandrabati took a loan to put her eldest daughter through school, she had no idea it would trap her family in slavery in a brick kiln. She spent backbreaking hours moulding and firing heavy clay bricks in gruelling heat, with no water or pay. Even her five-year-old daughter was forced to work.

“The owner’s men would constantly threaten that they would give us electric shocks and remove our skin if they see us not working, and we lived in constant fear,” Chandrabati remembers.

South Asia, where Chandrabati was exploited, is also a top location for the recruitment of trafficking victims who are brought to Qatar.

And yet, change is possible. With IJM’s support, authorities found Chandrabati’s children and brought 61 people to safety, arresting the kiln owner and two of his associates. Finally free and able to return home, IJM’s aftercare team supported Chandrabati’s family with housing, education and opportunities for her daughters, so they could build a better future as a family. Today, Chandrabati is a leader in her community.

Three leading charities have joined forces and are calling on churches, gamers and football fans to unite against injustice. During this men’s World Cup, you can game, watch or give to raise vital funds for Compassion, International Justice Mission UK and Tearfund, to help them protect people from exploitation.

Together, they will help families through the global food crisis and empower communities to lift themselves out of poverty so that they are less vulnerable to traffickers; bring people trapped in slavery to safety, and see perpetrators brought to justice so that they can’t harm others.

They are calling on churches to sign up to host Justice United events, with different options for how to raise awareness and fundraise, including Playstation or Xbox football tournaments and World Cup watch parties. These events will also act as conversation starters to help churches understand the issue of exploitation. Details can be found at www.justiceunited.org.uk.

David Westlake, CEO of International Justice Mission UK, commented: “We’ve seen amazing progress in the movement to end slavery, with reductions of up to 86% in places where IJM has worked – but even as the anti-slavery movement grows, factors such as the pandemic, conflict and climate change mean that the problem is getting bigger.

“To truly stop slavery for good, we need everybody to get involved – which is why we’re delighted to be teaming up with Tearfund, Compassion and churches all over the UK. Through Justice United, we hope to help churches enjoy the World Cup together whilst taking a stand against exploitation and understanding more about the problem. Together, we can make a real difference.”

Tearfund’s Head of Church and Supporter Relations, Ruth Tormey, is encouraging churches to sign up: “Not only will hosting Justice United events help churches offer the fun and fellowship of ‘football fever’ to a wide range of people, it will also give them a natural way to open up conversations about some of the injustices highlighted in the run up to this year’s World Cup.”

Mark Preston, Senior Director of Partnerships at Compassion UK, commented: “Hosting or taking part in a Justice United event is a fantastic way to enjoy the men’s football World Cup, knowing you’re joining gamers and football fans in your community, uniting with churches across the UK, and standing with Compassion, IJM and Tearfund against injustice.”

International Justice Mission is a global organisation that protects people in poverty from slavery and violence. IJM’s 29 programme offices partner with local authorities in 17 countries to combat slavery, violence against women and children, and police abuse of power. IJM works with authorities to bring victims to safety, provide trauma-informed care to survivors, hold perpetrators accountable, and help strengthen public justice systems. Learn more about IJM UK at IJMUK.org

Tearfund is a Christian charity that partners with churches in more than 50 of the world’s poorest countries. We tackle poverty through sustainable development, responding to disasters and challenging injustice. We believe an end to extreme poverty is possible. Tearfund is also a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee. For more information about the work of Tearfund, please visit www.tearfund.org.

Compassion UK is a Christian child development charity. We partner with local churches in more than 25 countries to release children from poverty, in Jesus’ name. Around the world, children and young people are being empowered to overcome poverty and thrive both now and into the future. To find out more about Compassion’s work, visit compassionuk.org