Creating new perspectives since 2009

Qatar's bitter cup

November 24, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Efforts by the QatarI authorities to reassure the world that all is well with its 2022 World Cup undertaking received a further setback on Wednesday when Amnesty International released a damning report on how the country is failing to address ongoing concerns about the treatment of migrant workers.

“Time is running out fast,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Amnesty’s Head of Refugee and Migrants’ Rights. He added “It has been four years since Qatar won the bid to host the World Cup and so far its response to migrant labour abuses has not been much more than promises of action and draft laws.”

The Qataris had made commitments in May of this year to follow through on a study by a leading London law firm DLA Piper. The study was commissioned by the Qatari government.

The136 page report, which received little publicity at the time, is a comprehensive assessment of the gulf between Qatari law and the actual treatment of migrant workers.

Its authors noted “much appropriate legislation is already in place. However, we have found a number of enforcement issues which need to be addressed.”

Put simply, the laws are on the books but they are either being ignored or not properly enforced.

The study examined nine areas of concern including the kafala sponsorship system, wages, accommodation, health and safety and access to justice. It made over 100 recommendations.

On Wednesday, speaking of the DLA Piper study, Amnesty said
“Six months later, only a handful of the limited measures announced in May have even been partially implemented. Overall the steps taken so far are woefully insufficient.”

In 2012 and 2013 there were over 900 deaths of construction workers from the Indian subcontinent. DLA Piper noted that “sudden cardiac death is the main cause of death amongst the top five migrant worker populations in Qatar.” Sudden cardiac arrest can be precipitated by dehydration and heat prostration.

Labourers frequently toil in temperatures that hover at 40 degrees centigrade without suitable access to water and they live in often substandard communal dwellings, many without air conditioning.

But the deaths have not been adequately investigated because as DLA Piper notes “post-mortems are not presently carried out in relation to deaths (of construction workers) which are sudden or unexplained.”

Their report called for a definitive study into the deaths “to verify the actual cause and take any preventative steps which may be appropriate.”

Noting that Qatar has a “comprehensive framework” of health and safety standards, DLA Piper urged the government to undertake “fully-fledged monitoring and enforcement” and show more transparency in dealing with the issue.

Regarding the notorious Kafala sponsorship practice which ties migrants to their employers, DLA Piper was unequivocal stating “the kafala system, in its existing form, is no longer the appropriate tool for the effective control of migration in Qatar.” Abuses of the system include the withholding of wages, the confiscation of passports and what Amnesty International in an earlier report called “a recipe for exploitation and forced labour.”

A spokesperson for Qatar’s Supreme Committee for the 2022 World Cup told MEMO he was waiting for the government to make a statement before responding to the Amnesty International allegations.

For FIFA, football’s world governing body, the Amnesty broadside is another in a lengthening list of issues associated with the Qatar bid. FIFA is already dealing with allegations of corruption and a lack of transparency in the bidding process that saw Qatar win, and debate continues over what time of year the event takes place with football leagues in Europe and the UK concerned that if the World Cup is shifted to the winter, it will cut into league play and adversely affect television revenues.

However the allegation that the 2022 World Cup is being built on the backs of an exploited and abused workforce is the charge that has the potential to do the most damage to the reputations of both FIFA and Qatar.

FIFA did not respond to a request for a comment.


The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.