Is Qatar doing enough for its migrant workers?

The country promised reform in working conditions for labourers, but has it delivered?

Peter Iantorno December 6, 2015

On December 2, 2010, shockwaves rippled through the sporting world with the news that Qatar had been awarded the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Five years on, and after a catalogue of scandals, including allegations of high-level corruption resulting in the suspension of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the tournament has attracted almost universal condemnation.

The latest blow came from a recent report by Amnesty International, which “shamed” Qatar’s record of migrant labour exploitation, claiming that it is “a recipe for human rights disaster”.

Amnesty said Qatar has done “almost nothing effective to end chronic labour exploitation,” since concerns were raised over its human rights record for migrant labourers working on stadiums and infrastructure for the tournament.

Qatar world cup rendering.jpg A rendering of a planned Qatar World Cup 2022 stadium.

The report detailed five major concerns, which Amnesty claims Qatar has made little or no effort to address, including paying workers’ salaries on time, expanding the labour inspector force and a reform of the restrictive ‘kafala’ sponsorship system.

As well as blaming authorities in Qatar, the report also condemns FIFA. “FIFA has bent over backwards to make a Qatar World Cup work, even taking the unprecedented step of moving the tournament from summer to winter,” said Amnesty researcher Mustafa Qadri. “But apart from occasional public statements the organisation has not set any clear, concrete agenda for how it will push Qatar to ensure migrant workers’ rights are respected.”

Right to reply

Following the damning report, the Qatari government released a statement of its own in reply, rejecting the Amnesty International findings. “Qatar feels that Amnesty’s statement does not accurately reflect the progress the country has made in reforming its labour system,” read the statement. “We feel that the accusation that Qatar has failed to improve the human rights of its guest workers is simply untrue. Significant reforms have been made and more are in the pipeline.

“Qatar has introduced and enforced new laws that make it illegal for companies to withhold workers’ passports; make it illegal to work during midday hours during the summer months; increase the minimum accommodation space per worker by 50 per cent; and improve health and safety requirements for all workers in Qatar.”

Qatar labour city.jpg A typical labour camp in Qatar.

The statement concluded, “Our government looks forward to the release of constructive reports by Amnesty International that accurately reflect the progress that has been made in Qatar, and which benchmark Qatar’s efforts against nations facing similar challenges.”

Despite the latest international criticism, Qatar is surging ahead with its ambitious plans. Just this weekend the organisers announced the locations of what are likely to be the final stadiums built, both in establishes areas of Doha, taking the total count to eight brand new stadiums overall.

The country also this week agreed on a deal to create seven ‘cities’, which will be purpose-built to house almost 180,000 migrant workers. Set to open within the next two years, the accommodations will feature facilities such as cafeterias, television rooms, gyms, mosques and other religious centres.

But even this, according to Amnesty’s Mustafa Qadri, doesn’t come close to doing enough for the migrant worker population. “Unless action is taken – and soon,” he said, “every football fan who visits Qatar in 2022 should ask themselves how they can be sure they are not benefiting from the blood, sweat and tears of migrant workers.”

Amnesty International.jpg The findings from the Amnesty International report.