Amnesty International recently aired the latest of several reports on alarming levels of labor abuse and injury linked to Qatar’s World Cup development, as reported in the magazine The Nation.
Migrant laborers, who make up the vast majority of Qatar’s labor force, primarily in domestic and construction work, face brutal conditions, poverty wages, and virtually no labor protections or recourse against abusive employers.
They are often drawn from poorer South and Southeast Asian nations by unregulated recruiters running a global web of debt bondage. A medieval-type contracting arrangement known as kafala effectively bars workers from leaving or changing jobs without their employers’ approval. The draconian system is used for other controversial prestige-seeking projects in the Gulf, such as the migrant labor–fueled developments of New York University’s and the Guggenheim’s branches in Abu Dhabi.
The human toll is stunning: lethal accidents and heat exhaustion related to World Cup development—including facilities, infrastructure, and other commercial projects—have led to, according to a 2014 audit, the deaths of 964 workers from Nepal, India, and Bangladesh in 2012 and 2013 alone.
By contrast, South Africa’s World Cup left two dead.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which has long condemned Qatar’s labor rights record, calculates some 1,200 workers have already perished. Data is sketchy, but with a workforce of some 1.5 million, at this rate, about 4,000 casualties will pave the World Cup’s gateway by opening day. Despite pressure from the United Nations, the government has done little to independently investigate construction-related deaths.
One construction worker described his virtual captivity to Amnesty researchers: My company has never given me my ID so at any time the police can arrest me and I will be stuck in jail. Because of this I rarely leave my camp. My life is just the construction site and this dirty room…. my sponsor has my passport and won’t let me work for another company.
Pressured by activists, Qatar’s authoritarian government last year promised some labor reforms. The government moved to increase the penalties for passport confiscation by employers, improve worker safety protections, and expand the labor inspection force. There was official discussion on revising the contracting system and the grievance procedure for workers. But workers today remain extremely vulnerable, restricted from organizing, and still locked under kafala.
Amnesty argues: In past 12 months, little has changed in law, policy and practice for the more than 1.5 million migrant workers in Qatar who remain at the mercy of their sponsors and employers. On the crucial issues of the exit permit, the restriction on changing employers in Qatar’s kafala system, protection of domestic workers and the freedom to form or join trade union—there has been no progress whatsoever.
Source: The Nation