The Case Against Qatar

When will the workforce behind the richest country in the world and the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup be treated as human beings with decent housing, fundamental rights and no longer live with the enslavement of kafala? Qatar is a country without a conscience.

Images of football stadium workers sleeping ten to a room in squalid rooms and their dangerous cooking facilities provoked a furious response from authorities in Qatar after they were published in an ITUC report, The Case Against Qatar.

Refusing to take responsibility for the 1.4million workers in Qatar and abandoning people are hallmarks of a regime which is coming under increasing pressure to abolish the kafala system of modern day slavery and introduce international labour standards if they are to host the Fifa World Cup in 2022.

The Qatar Supreme Committee for Legacy and Development, responsible for the implementing the 2022 World Cup denied they were responsible for the workers at Al Wakrah stadium, and said they are not covered by the Supreme Committee Workers' Welfare Standards designed to appease international unease with labour abuses in the country.

The ITUC shared the disturbing evidence with Fifa after a site visit in February. It is now claimed that the workers will be housed in better facilities at the end of March, where they can live like human beings.

That anyone in the sporting community of Qatar thought it was reasonable to house workers in these conditions in the first place appalls us.

When will the workforce behind the richest country in the world and the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup be treated as human beings with decent housing, fundamental rights and no longer live with the enslavement of kafala?

Qatar is a country without a conscience.

While there are many highly educated and many generous Qatari citizens, the reality is that there is only a facade of government. Qatar is run like a family business. Ministers with little power try to manage portfolios that democratic governments usually manage, but with only the shadow of a civil service.

Fundamental rights and freedoms do not exist for workers in Qatar whether for poor migrant workers or highly paid professional expatriates. Foreign workers are enslaved - owned by employers who hold the power of recruitment, total control over wages and conditions of employment, the authority to issue ID cards (not having an ID card can lead to prison) and the ability to refuse a change of employment or an exit visa to leave the country. This is known as the kafala system.

Poor migrant workers living in squalor, are forced to work long hours in unbelievable heat six days a week. Kept in an apartheid situation they are dying in unprecedented numbers.

Foreign embassies in Qatar are forced to keep quiet about the mass deaths of their citizens out of fear of retaliation by the authorities. Diplomatic sources say they have been urged to play down or deny work-related fatalities, with the threat of turning off the flow of remittances from Qatar to home.

Women and children without husbands or male sponsors, and the victims of abuse, including rape, and are imprisoned in detention centres that are crowded and unhygienic. Detainees have no knowledge of what fate awaits them. Embassies are not given full access to the detention centre, and no records of who has been detained are available.

There is no effective labour compliance system in what is effectively a police state. The minuscule labour inspectorate is no match for the vast number of worksites and labour camps in and around Doha.

The ITUC recently visited several thousand workers in ten labour camps to the east and south of Doha. Labour camps are run by slum landlords who rent them to companies, or are managed by the companies themselves. A camp boss or company security guard patrols the camp. Many do not even provide fresh water. I tasted the salty water used for drinking and washing.

The Industrial Area, 25km from downtown Doha, is a grid of 52 streets lined with buses to transport workers to sites, JCBs and hazardous machinery. Behind the compounds with the machinery are single and sometimes double-story buildings with rooms of eight to twelve workers, one toilet and washing area and one kitchen. Sixty percent of labour camps in the Industrial Area are home to Nepali workers.

Grown men said they were treated like animals, living like horses in a stable.

Saniya is 35km from Doha and has a similar set of ramshackle buildings, industrial equipment and homes. Generators provide power, and raw sewage can be seen running by the camps. Al Wakrah, 27km south of Doha, is home of one of the World Cup stadiums, has numerous labour camps.

Blue overalls and men's clothes hanging out to dry are ugly clues to the squalor of the labour camps that Qatar chooses not to acknowledge.

It is clear that no inspector has visited the labour camps we saw for a long time, if ever.

An ineffective court system, made worse by employers -delaying tactics, can mean that years pass before a judgement is issued, while workers are trapped without income and without support.

Workers are trapped in a broken system.

Tragically a small number of Qatari power brokers have chosen to build the trappings of a modern economy off the backs of exploited and enslaved workers.

Qatar must change. Fifa can make a difference by making the abolishment of kafala and the respect of international rights a condition of Qatar hosting the World Cup in 2022.

If Fifa demand Qatar abolish kafala and respect fundamental international rights, it will happen.

This week the powerful Fifa Executive Committee will meet in Zurich to assess the progress of Qatar in meeting international labour standards.

The Case Against Qatar shows the damming proof of how far Qatar will go to deny workers their rights.

From salty water being provided to workers in camps for cooking and washing, to employers demanding deposits of US$275 are paid by workers before they are allowed to leave for holidays, and over 2500 Indonesian maids a year fleeing from abusive sponsors, the case against Qatar grows stronger every day.


What's Hot