Migrant Workers in Qatar Still at Risk of Forced Labor

Members of the Swiss UNIA workers union display red cards in a protest against kafala system. (File Photo)Members of the Swiss UNIA workers union display red cards in a protest against kafala system. (File Photo)

Workers building the 2022 World Cup stadiums in Qatar will remain at risk of forced labor because of “meager reforms” that “barely scratch the surface” of the Persian Gulf state’s exploitation of migrant labor.

A law change that comes into effect on Tuesday, which Qatar says guarantees greater flexibility, freedom and protection for workers, will not “significantly change the exploitative relationship between employers and workers”, Amnesty International UK has warned.

The Persian Gulf state is spending an estimated $200 billion on new transport infrastructure, housing and sports facilities, including six stadiums designed by architects, including Lord Foster and the late Zaha Hadid, the Guardian reported.

Qatar’s kafala system, which is used to recruit a majority of its workforce from countries, including India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, has prompted international outcry because it prevents workers from changing jobs or leaving the country without a permit. It is alleged to have resulted in modern-day slavery for some workers.

Qatar said on Monday it was abolishing kafala and that it was “enormously grateful to the millions of workers who have come to Qatar to build our nation’s infrastructure during this period of rapid change”.

But James Lynch, deputy director for global issues at Amnesty, said the new law “may get rid of the word ‘sponsorship’ but it leaves the same basic system intact”.

“It is good that Qatar has accepted that its laws were fuelling abuse but these inadequate changes will continue to leave workers at the mercy of exploitative bosses,” he said.

Amnesty has warned FIFA that it “cannot continue to remain shamefully ambivalent to the plight of workers in Qatar” and said FC Barcelona “should make clear to their hosts their desire to play in a human rights-friendly environment. Players and clubs cannot live in a bubble.”

Lynch, a former British diplomat in Doha, said that in practice employers would still be able to stop migrant workers from leaving the country and that, by making it easier for employers to confiscate workers’ passports, the new law could make the situation worse.

“The tragedy is that many workers think that this new law will be the end of their ordeal,” he said.

In a statement, the government of Qatar said it “fundamentally rejects Amnesty International’s claims”.

Issa bin Saad al-Jafali al-Nuaimi, the minister of labor, said Qatar was replacing “the kafala system with a modernized contract-based system that safeguards worker rights and increases job flexibility”.


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