Sochi Workers Faced Rampant Abuses Building Olympic Sites

Russian authorities and human rights advocates documented millions in unpaid earnings

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The Sochi Olympics are the most expensive in history with an estimated $50 billion price tag, as cost overruns and corruption have driven the cost to record levels. Human rights activists say workers who built the Olympic sites have paid a high price in the form of delayed wages, dire working conditions and in some cases violent abuse.

Human Rights Watch has documented widespread abuses at Olympic construction sites since 2009.  Workers who built the massive Sochi Olympic sites over the past six years have found their wages delayed or unpaid, according to interviews conducted with dozens of migrant workers.

Inspections in December 2013 of more than 500 companies developing the Sochi sites revealed that several failed to pay their employees a total of 277 million rubles (US$8.34 million), said Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, in charge of the government’s Olympic preparations.

Russian authorities vowed that these employers would pay back the wages, but human rights advocates have called for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to push Russia to end the exploitation of workers on Olympic sites.

“The IOC needs to do more to make sure that games aren’t held in conditions where there are serious and pervasive problems,” said Jane Buchanan, associate director of Human Rights Watch for Europe and Central Asia. “It casts a black shadow over the Olympics. The games can’t be a force for good if they come at such a high cost for people building the Olympics.”

The Opening Ceremony for the Winter Olympics is set to kick off on Friday, Feb. 7