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Qatar: ‘The Dark Side of Migration’

All eyes on Qatar

Amnesty International’s report sheds light on exploitation of foreign workers in Qatar.

November 18, 2013 3:00 by

A new investigative report by Amnesty International reveals that, as the construction of stadiums for the FIFA World Cup 2022 stadiums in Qatar is set to begin, its construction sector is rampant with alleged reports that migrant workers employed on multi-million-dollar projects are suffering serious exploitation.

‘The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s Construction Sector Ahead of the World Cup’ is based on interviews with workers, employers and government officials, and documents a wide range of abuses against migrant workers. They include non-payment of wages, harsh and dangerous working conditions, and shocking standards of accommodation.

Salil Shetty, secretary-general of Amnesty International, says that it’s simply inexcusable that in one of the world’s richest countries, migrant workers would be so “ruthlessly exploited”, deprived of their wages and left struggling to survive.

“Construction companies and the Qatari authorities alike are failing migrant workers. Employers in Qatar have displayed an appalling disregard for the basic human rights of migrant workers. Many are taking advantage of a permissive environment and lax enforcement of labour protections to exploit construction workers,” he says, adding that turning a blind eye to any form of exploitation, particularly when it is destroying people’s lives and livelihoods, is unforgivable.

He adds: “The world’s spotlight will continue to shine on Qatar in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup, offering the government a unique chance to demonstrate on a global stage that they are serious about their commitment to human rights and can act as a role model to the rest of the region.”

The report also sheds light on current practises within the construction industry, in which some managers consider it normal to violate labour standards, adding that discriminatory attitudes towards migrant workers in Qatar are common. In fact, one of Amnesty International’s researchers heard a manager of one construction firm referring to workers as “animals”.

Amnesty International is just one of many international human rights associations calling for the overhaul of Qatar’s sponsorship system, which leaves migrant workers unable to leave the country or change jobs without their employers’ permission.

The organisation contacted several major companies with regard to cases it had documented. Many expressed serious concerns about the findings and one company added that it had upgraded its inspection regime as a result.

In one case, employees of a company delivering critical supplies to a construction project associated with the planned FIFA headquarters for the 2022 World Cup were subjected to serious labour abuses. Nepalese workers employed by the supplier said that they were “treated like cattle”. Employees were working for up to 12 hours every day throughout the week, even during Qatar’s hot summer months. The report identifies cases that constitute forced labour. Many workers who were interviewed revealed that they were living in fear of losing everything, being threatened with penalty fines, deportation or loss of income if they did not show up to work even though they were not being paid.

Amnesty International is calling on FIFA to work with the Qatari authorities and World Cup organisers as a matter of priority to prevent abuses. Salil Shetty says that the government must act now to end this abuse.

The organisation has documented cases where employers effectively blackmailed workers in order to get out of the country. Researchers witnessed 11 men signing papers in front of government officials falsely confirming that they had received their wages, in order to get their passports back to leave Qatar.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) estimates that if no preventative measures are put in place, 4,000 workers will die in Qatar before the start of the World Cup.

In an interview with Kippreport last month, Sharon Burrow, general-secretary of the ITUC, said that the labour ministry in Qatar is in denial and refuses to take responsibility for the ongoing mistreatment of workers, adding that legal and political solutions are easily available to the government.

“Qatar’s denial that its Kafala system is one of forced labour or slavery demonstrates the arrogance of a very wealthy nation, which thinks it can buy reputation, rather than actually adhere to the civilised norms of international law,” she says.

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