With less than four years until the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Qatar, a new report published by Amnesty International on 5 February highlights the country’s record on migrant workers’ rights. While Qatar has finally begun a reform process promising to tackle widespread labour exploitation and align its laws and practices with international labour standards, workers continue to be vulnerable to serious abuses including forced labour and restrictions on freedom of movement and over 1,200 workers have died since the country was awarded the World Cup.
“Time is running out if the Qatari authorities want to deliver a legacy we can all cheer – namely a labour system that ends the abuse and misery inflicted upon so many migrant workers every day,” said Stephen Cockburn, Deputy Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.
“The Qatari authorities have been taking some important steps to protect labour rights, but much more needs to be done. Holes in the reforms to date mean many workers are still stuck in harsh conditions, vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, while those who return home do so empty handed, with no compensation and no justice.”
Since 2010, when the country was awarded the right to host the 2022 World Cup, Qatar’s migrant worker population has rapidly expanded. Driven in part by the subsequent construction boom, the country’s population jumped from 1.6 million people in December 2010 to 2.6 million in December 2018.
According to a report published by the International Trades Union Confederation (ITUC) approximately 1,200 workers have already died since 2010 and the ITUC predicts that there will be at least 4,000 worker fatalities by the time the World Cup begins in 2022.
To put that number in perspective the ITUC also revealed the amount of workers killed in the lead up to other major sporting events around the world. The next highest number of deaths were from the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics with 60 people killed and the 2004 Athens Olympics with 40 killed.
Coming from some of the world’s poorest countries, and working in sectors including construction, hospitality and domestic service, migrant workers make up 95 per cent of Qatar’s labour force. Yet with rapidly increasing numbers of workers travelling to take advantage of economic opportunities, more also fell victim to the country’s exploitative labour system.
The non-payment and late payment of wages are generally the most common complaints of migrant workers. The high and often illegal recruitment fees that migrant workers pay to secure employment in Qatar, coupled with the low pay they receive on arrival, can very easily lead to or exacerbate conditions of forced labor as workers struggle to pay back debts incurred during the recruitment process.
Migrant workers in Qatar also face harsh and dangerous working conditions, and shocking standards of accommodation. Researchers met dozens of construction workers who were prevented from leaving the country for many months by their employers – leaving them trapped in Qatar with no way out.
The abuse and exploitation of low paid migrant workers, sometimes amounting to forced labour and human trafficking, have been extensively documented since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar. Representatives of the families of migrant workers already killed and injured on building sites in the Gulf state called on Fifa to hand the tournament to another country, unless the Doha leadership can quickly guarantee worker safety.
The British government also renewed pressure on Qatar, with the sports minister, Hugh Robertson, telling The Guardian it should be “a precondition of the delivery of every major sports event that the very highest standards of health and safety are applied”.
In 2014 the UN Special Rapporteur on Migrant Rights also described how “exploitation is frequent and migrants often work without pay and live in substandard conditions”, and called for the country’s sponsorship system to be abolished.