(WFI) Human Rights Watch has accused Qatar of failing to deliver on its pledges to improve migrant workers’ conditions since securing the 2022 World Cup.
“Qatar’s rulers asserted in 2010 that the country’s successful bid for the World Cup could inspire positive change and leave a huge legacy for the region, but the past two years have seen an absence of reform,” said Jan Egeland, Europe director at the human rights group, on Thursday.
“If this persists, the tournament threatens to turn Qatar into a crucible of exploitation and misery for the workers who will build it.”
HRW said Qatar World Cup organisers had made encouraging pledges on workers’ rights, but they lacked detail. It said they did nothing to mask “the failure of the Qatari authorities either to reform exploitative laws, such as the kafala system of sponsorship-based employment and the prohibition on trade unions, or to enforce the prohibition on illegal recruitment fees and the confiscation of passports”.
Amid the furore linked to the delivery of billion-dollar infrastructure projects and stadia for the 2022 tournament, organisers said “the safety, security, health and dignity of workers is of paramount importance” to the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee.
Qatar 2022 chiefs are currently drafting a migrant worker charter that they say will be implemented on all tournament-related projects. It is expected to be completed and introduced by the end of March.
HRW Alleges Labour Law Violations
Qatar’s failures are cited in HRW’s 665-page report released on Thursday, World Report 2013, which has analysed progress on human rights over the past year in more than 90 countries.
Last June, a 146-page HRW report called ‘Building a Better World Cup’ exposed in the shortcomings in Qatar’s legal and regulatory framework, and the consequences for its migrant workers.
According to the watchdog, they already constitute nearly 90% of Qatar’s population of 1.9 million. The numbers of migrant workers – most said to come from south Asian countries of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan – are set to rise as World Cup 2022 construction begins in earnest later this year.
HRW claims laws intended to protect workers are rarely enforced in Qatar, with employers routinely confiscating passports no rights for migrant workers’ to unionise or strike.
HRW also slammed the kafala (sponsorship) system that ties a migrant worker’s legal residence to his or her employer, or “sponsor.” It means migrant workers cannot change jobs without their sponsoring employer’s consent and makes it difficult for them to report or flee employer abuse.
According to the watchdog, some migrant workers reported labour law violations, including late or unpaid wages and overcrowded and unsanitary labour camps.
Human Rights Watch called for the Qatari government and 2022 World Cup organisers to capitalize on the staging of the FIFA showpiece by taking the lead on migrant workers’ rights in the Gulf region.
The group urged the Qatari authorities to set out a timetable to abolish the sponsorship system and to impose sanctions on companies and individuals who violate laws designed to protect migrant workers’ rights.
“Qatar’s increasing prominence on the international stage should not
divert attention from its domestic rights record,” Egeland said.
“As the country begins the construction of the stadiums and associated infrastructure required to host the World Cup in 2022, the issue that poses the greatest threat to its international reputation is migrant workers’ rights.”
Qatar 2022 responded to the HRW accusations in a statement that stressed it had “actively sought out concrete suggestions on best practices and are evaluating how those can be accomplished within the scope of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee’s programme”.
The statement added that Qatar World Cup organisers were also developing detailed, contractual language on labour requirements that would be part of all its tender documents.
“We have engaged in consultation on this issue with all interested parties from the international human rights and labour community, including Human Rights Watch, and will continue to do so as we build toward 2022,” the statement said.
Rummenigge Praise for World Cup Plans
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, chairman of the European Club Association, said this week that Qatar was on track to stage a “fantastic” World Cup.
The German and his colleagues listened to a presentation from Qatar 2022 leader Hassan Al Thawadi on Tuesday and at a Wednesday press conference following the two-day ECA meeting, Rummenigge said it had left a “very positive” impression on him about the organisation and infrastructure of the tournament.
He declined to comment on whether the World Cup should be staged in the summer or switched to the winter months to avoid the sizzling Gulf heat.
Although UEFA president Michel Platini has led calls for the switch, FIFA and Qatar have not given any indication of a change in that direction.
By INSIDER’s Mark Bisson
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