Human Rights Watch, a leading international humanitarian watchdog is warning that migrant workers in Qatar face abuse sometimes amounting to forced labour. In a new report it urges both the government and FIFA to meet their commitments to respect workers’ rights in preparation for the 2022 world cup.
“The government needs to ensure that the cutting edge, high tech stadiums it’s planning to build for World Cup fans are not built on the backs of abused and exploited workers” said HRW Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson.
The 146 page report, “Building a better world cup: protecting migrant workers in Qatar ahead of FIFA 2022” is based on interviews with 73 migrant construction workers, mostly from south Asian. It examines recruitment and employment practices and says that Qatar has a “restrictive sponsorship system that gives employers inordinate control over their employees”.
Some 94% of Qatar’s work force are migrant workers and most of the employees interviewed reported a range of problems, including unpaid wages, illegal salary deductions, crowded and unsanitary labour camps and unsafe working conditions.
The Qatari labour ministry denies that workers are being exploited.
“The ministry has received no complaint of forced labour and it is inconceivable that such a thing exists in Qatar as the worker may break his contract and return to his country whenever he wishes and the employer cannot force him to remain in the country against his will”, it said in a letter to HRW.
The Qatari government has recently suggested it will replace the sponsorship system with a system of contracts between employers and employees. The current system does not give employees the right to change jobs without their employer’s permission, all workers must get their sponsoring employer to sign an exit permit before they can leave the country. Saudi Arabia remains the only other Gulf country that retains the problematic exit permit system.
HRW also pointed out that Qatari laws prohibit workers from unionising or striking in violation of international labour organisation regulations. It raised concerns about workers safety in Qatar’s construction industry and claimed that discrepancies exist between the number of deaths reported by local embassies and the number reported by the government.
Ensuring international standards for worker’s rights
Gas-rich Qatar last yeat became the first Arab country to be awarded rights to host the world cup 2022 and has announced multi-billion dollar developments in preparation for the event.
HRW said that Qatar may recruit up to one million additional migrant construction workers in the next decade in preparation for the tournament.
The local organizing committee for the tournament, the Supreme Committee for Qatar 2022, and the company it appointed to help oversee World Cup construction, CH2M HILL have said they will establish labour standards that builders and other contractors hired to construct World Cup venues must meet.
“Ensuring international standards for workers’ rights and conditions has and will continue to be at the forefront of our committee’s strategic planning and implementation,” said the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee in a letter to HRW.
HRW welcomed these commitments but said it wants additional steps: “what the international community needs to hear are specific public and enforceable commitments from them and the construction companies. FIFA should also push for such action, give its public promise to promote labour rights in Qatar,” Whitson said.
Maha Barada – euronews Doha bureau chief. On Twitter @MahaBarada