‘We are one year closer to Qatar’s 2022 World Cup - time for changes to be implemented is running out’ - Mustafa Qadri
More than a year after the Qatari government promised reforms to improve migrant worker rights, hopes of progress are fading fast, said Amnesty International in a new briefing published today.
The briefing - Promising little, delivering less: Qatar and migrant labour abuse ahead of the 2022 Football World Cup - provides a “scorecard” that rates the authorities’ response to nine fundamental migrant labour rights issues identified by Amnesty. A year later, only limited progress has been achieved on five of these issues, in four areas the authorities have failed to make any improvements at all.
Over the last 12 months, little has changed in law, policy and practice for the more than 1.5 million migrant workers in Qatar who remain at the mercy of their sponsors and employers. On the crucial issues of the exit permit, the restriction on changing employers in Qatar’s “kafala” system, protection of domestic workers and the freedom to form or join trade union - there has been no progress whatsoever.
The most significant reform proposed by the government last year - the introduction of an electronic wage system to change the way migrants’ salaries are paid - is still in the process of being implemented. Many migrants interviewed by Amnesty in recent months still complain of late or non-payment of wages. Ranjith, a Sri Lankan migrant worker interviewed by Amnesty this year, has not been paid since he arrived in Qatar five months ago. He has no ID and no contract, and his accommodation in a workers camp in the Industrial Area is cramped and filthy. He told Amnesty:
“I just want to work and earn some money for my wife and children, but because of my sponsor I can’t change jobs. If I go to the police they will arrest me and deport me because I do not have an ID.”
Qatar has also failed to meet its target to have 300 labour inspectors in place by the end of 2014. There has been only limited progress on measures to improve safety on construction sites, regulate exploitative recruitment agencies and improve access to justice for victims of labour exploitation.
Amnesty stressed that even if all the reforms the Qatari authorities announced a year ago had been implemented, these measures would not be sufficient to address the root causes behind widespread exploitation of migrant workers. In November 2013, a major Amnesty report revealed that the abuse and exploitation of Qatar’s migrant construction workers was rife, in some cases amounting to forced labour. Although Qatar has since repeatedly said it would stamp out this abuse, for many migrants very little has changed.
Amnesty International Gulf migrant rights researcher Mustafa Qadri said:
“Qatar is failing migrant workers. Last year the government made promises to improve migrant labour rights in Qatar, but in practice, there have been no significant advances in the protection of rights.
“Without prompt action, the pledges Qatar made last year are at serious risk of being dismissed as a mere public relations stunt to ensure the Gulf state can cling on to the 2022 World Cup.
“The reality is that more than a year and a half after Amnesty highlighted rampant exploitation of migrants - little has been done to address the root causes of this abuse. We are one year closer to Qatar’s 2022 World Cup - time for changes to be implemented is running out.
“With Qatar’s construction boom continuing and the migrant worker population set to expand to 2.5 million, the need for urgent reform is more pressing than ever.”
Rather than take the necessary action to address labour exploitation, recent action by the Qatari authorities raises questions about whether they are more interested in covering up abuse than stamping it out. Journalists and human rights workers investigating conditions for migrant workers in Qatar have faced detention and interrogation by the authorities. In recent weeks alone, journalists doing separate investigations into exploitation of migrant workers for the German broadcaster WDR and the BBC have been detained.
Mustafa Qadri said:
“Seeking to silence those documenting the conditions of migrant workers by detaining and intimidating them sends the message that the government is more concerned about its image than dealing with the appalling reality of the tens of thousands of men and women who are abused in Qatar.”
FIFA presidency needs to tackle migrant worker exploitation
Football’s world governing body FIFA is set to elect its new president next week - on 29 May - and Amnesty is insisting that FIFA lives up to its responsibility to prioritise the issue of exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar, including by publicly and privately calling on the Qatari authorities to implement effective reforms. Last week, only one of the four FIFA presidential candidates - Michael van Praag - set out a clear plan to address human rights, labour rights and corruption issues if successful in their bid when asked
by the Sports and Rights Alliance, a coalition of leading NGOs, sports organisations and trade unions.
Mustafa Qadri said:
“FIFA has spent much time, money and political capital investigating alleged corruption in the Russia and Qatar World Cup bids, and agonising over the scheduling of the tournament. But the organisation has yet to demonstrate any real commitment to ensuring Qatar 2022 is not built on a foundation of exploitation and abuse.”