Migrant workers in Qatar, who are building the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha for the 2022 World Cup, have suffered systematic human rights abuses, forced labor, and have been dying at an alarming rate. Amnesty International released a damning report in March this year describing the appalling work conditions and condemning FIFA’s indifference to the situation.
Amnesty’s report, titled The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game, details their research into the exploitation of migrant workers, which included interviewing 234 men working for the companies responsible for the abuse.
Almost all of the workers interviewed said their salaries were lower than they’d initially been told – they had been recruited using deceptive practices – and the majority had had their passports confiscated by their employers. Some Nepalese workers, who’d wanted to go home to check on family after the devastating Nepal earthquakes last year, were told they weren’t allowed to by their employer, the labor supply company Seven Hills.
Amnesty’s report also says that some workers appear to have been subjected to forced labor:
“One worker recalled “I went to the company office, telling the manager I wanted to go home [back to my country] because always my pay is late. The manager screamed at me saying ‘keep working or you will never leave!’” The manager also threatened that unless the man kept working the company would withhold the delayed salary owed to him.”
Amnesty has approached the offending companies, but said in the report that none of them had attempted to rectify the human rights abuses. FIFA also seems disinterested in the welfare of the workers building the stadium for its event:
“Overall, Amnesty International found FIFA’s response failed to demonstrate any genuine commitment to ensuring the rights of migrant workers on World Cup sites are not abused.”
In 2014, The Guardian reported that Nepalese workers were dying at a rate of one every two days, suggesting that if the deaths of all nationalities of migrant workers were taken into account, the death toll would likely be one per day.
One of the problems faced by the workers is extreme heat, with temperatures regularly reaching 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). Working long hours in this sort of heat makes people vulnerable to fatal heat stroke, and a large proportion of Nepalese worker deaths were attributed to cardiac arrest or heart attack. There were also a number of deaths recorded as workplace accidents.
The Guardian has run a series of articles on migrant worker conditions in Qatar, called modern-day slavery in focus + Qatar. Given the deplorable conditions, the fatalities, and Amnesty’s reports of forced labor, ‘slavery’ is certainly apt. And it seems the construction industry’s response to the issue is to remain tight-lipped.
The Guardian reported in April this year that when they reached out to 53 companies regarding migrant worker conditions in Qatar, only 12 responded. This 24% response rate is a third of what they normally get when they survey companies on an issue. This approach may not work for much longer, though, according to Mariam Bhacker, project manager for Gulf construction and migrant workers at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre:
“Scrutiny of the construction industry in the Gulf is only going to increase, and it’s in companies’ interests to start talking or face the reputational and legal consequences.”
It’s time all those who will profit from the labor of these migrant workers stop ignoring the situation and do everything in their power to eliminate the deplorable human rights abuses.
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