Abuse Of Qatari World Cup Workers Continues Despite Promised Reforms

"Not really much has changed," the author of a new human rights report says.
Protesters gathered at FIFA meetings in Zurich to call on global soccer's governing body to force changes to Qatar's labor ab
Protesters gathered at FIFA meetings in Zurich to call on global soccer's governing body to force changes to Qatar's labor abuses on World Cup-related projects.

Qatar's promises that it would reform a labor system international observers have likened to "modern slavery" have failed to cause meaningful change for migrant construction workers on projects related to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a new investigation has found.

Through interviews with hundreds of workers in and around the Khalifa International Stadium, which is on schedule to be the first of Qatar's World Cup venues to be completed, global human rights organization Amnesty International discovered that many of the abuses the country purportedly sought to address have persisted even after the government announced reforms two years ago.

All of the 231 workers who spoke to Amnesty International during a monthslong investigation in 2015 said they had faced some sort of abuse, including forced labor, the confiscation of passports, "squalid living conditions" or delays in compensation.

"What really strikes me is that [these] are issues we've highlighted before," Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty's Gulf migrants rights researcher and the report's author, told The Huffington Post. "What it shows is that the lessons that we've learned from past research, what we've said and what others have said in the past, is not being listened to."

The report is the latest to detail workers' rights abuses related to World Cup projects in Qatar. The United Nations has pushed the country to reform its labor practices ahead of the tournament, and in 2014, an international trade union estimated that as many as 4,000 migrant laborers would die while working on such projects. (The Qatari government has disputed those numbers.)

Amnesty's investigation is somewhat unprecedented, Qadri said, in its access to migrant workers within the country. 

Throughout its interview process, Qadri said, Amnesty investigators saw "some appetite" to address labor issues in the country. The Qatari government proposed reforms in 2014 amid international criticism of abuses -- including a high number of deaths -- of migrant workers who have flocked to the country in recent years. As part of the reforms, Qatar promised to end its kafala labor system, in which domestic sponsors hold near-total control over the employment and basic rights of migrant workers (including their right to switch jobs or leave the country).

But while the reforms enshrined some basic protections into law, there is little evidence of progress on the ground.

My life here is like a prison." Nepali migrant worker in Qatar

“My life here is like a prison," a Nepali metalworker on the Khalifa Stadium project told Amnesty International. "The work is difficult, we worked for many hours in the hot sun. When I first complained about my situation, soon after arriving in Qatar, the manager said ‘if you [want to] complain you can but there will be consequences. If you want to stay in Qatar be quiet and keep working.’”

Such sentiments are typical among the workers, many of whom still feel too threatened to speak out about their situation, Qadri said.

"What we've seen is that not really much has changed," Qadri said. "They've removed the kafala system from the law. They don't call sponsors 'sponsors' anymore. But that really is just a name change. It's not changing the situation."

"We haven't seen enough in terms of them actually trying to enforce the law, and trying to target the types of workers and industries we know are ripe for abuse," he continued. "We all know there's a problem in Qatar, and we all know it will take time to address that. What we need to see is, 'What is your strategy to address this, to come to grips with the problems and to, over time, overcome them?'"

The report takes specific aim at FIFA, global soccer's governing body, which voted in 2010 to award the 2022 World Cup to the small, wealthy Gulf nation. Qatar's labor abuses preceded that decision, but preparations for the tournament are at the center of the construction boom that has brought thousands of migrant workers to the country, giving FIFA "significant influence" to effect change in the country, Qadri said.

But FIFA has shown a "shocking indifference" to persistent labor abuses against workers on World Cup-related construction projects in Qatar, the report states.

"FIFA knew or should have known back in 2010 when it was assessing Qatar's bid that labor abuse is a chronic problem in the country," Qadri said. "After awarding the tournament to Qatar, they've taken no concrete steps to address the issues."

World Cup-related construction will only increase over the next two years, leading Qadri to worry that a lack of immediate reforms will put more migrant workers at risk of abuse as the number of laborers on World Cup projects is expected to grow from a few thousand to more than 36,000, according to Amnesty.

"We don't feel that these are exceptional cases," Qadri said. "We are really concerned that this is just the tip of the iceberg."

In the report, Amnesty calls on FIFA and its largest sponsors -- many of which have been quick to advocate for reforms within the organization amid international corruption investigations over the past year -- to push for better reforms to Qatar's labor practices. FIFA, Amnesty suggests, should demand the country publish a true reform plan in the next year, and "should carry out, and publish, its own regular independent inspections" of the country's labor practices.

"We could be dealing with thousands of people in the same situation," Qadri said. "And if this is not addressed, then in 2022 we will not be celebrating the football. We will be mourning a tournament built on labor exploitation."



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