"With a series of raids and arrests this winter, the Belgian authorities unearthed what they said was a dirty deal at the heart of the European Parliament. Politicians are charged with pocketing money to praise the tiny Gulf nation of Qatar and downplay its labor rights abuses in the run-up to the World Cup.
Well before any cash is known to have changed hands in that scheme, however, Qatar embarked on a yearslong campaign of political maneuvering that helped turn the International Labor Organization, the United Nations workers’ rights watchdog, from critic to ally, an examination by The New York Times found.
The campaign included free travel for a labor leader; an intense and divisive lobbying effort to head off an investigation; a parliamentary hearing with planted questions; and a $25 million Qatari contribution to the labor organization as part of a package of promised changes, according to documents and interviews with more than a dozen current and former labor officials. Finally, on the eve of the World Cup, officials with the Qatari labor ministry asked the U.N. agency to refrain from any commentary that could overshadow the tournament.
Hosting the World Cup was part of a long, expensive effort by Qatar to cultivate its global image. But the bid was tainted by bribery accusations and drew attention to Qatar’s exploitative labor system. Even now that the tournament is over, the new revelations involving a U.N. agency highlight the secretive ways some rich Persian Gulf monarchies, authoritarian governments and strongmen continue to use their wealth to influence global institutions.
The Belgian authorities see Qatar’s campaign at the International Labor Organization as a key part of its efforts to shape public opinion, particularly among European lawmakers, according to an official close to the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case...
A confidential report by the International Trade Union Confederation, which sits on the U.N. labor agency’s governing body, found that the confederation had 'operational, financial, constitutional, and political' vulnerabilities to corruption. The report, obtained by The Times, cited an urgent need to protect against 'threats posed to the global trade union movement.'...
The agency says it did not soften its message at the government’s request. But with the eyes of the world on Qatar, the agency’s public statements during the World Cup made no mention of persistent labor abuses, opting instead to applaud its cooperation with the government.
The agency even posted on Twitter a photo of its top official enjoying the tournament.”