Qatar: Labor Rights Violations During World Cup Preparations

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DOHA, Qatar–The selection of Qatar to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022 brought elation and prominence to the small Middle Eastern nation. The bid was awarded to Qatar on December 2, 2010 in Zurich, Switzerland.

The Chairman of the Qatari bid, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thrani, was thrilled with FIFA’s decision, thanking the organization for “believing in change” and “for giving Qatar a chance.”

Despite this jubilant response, however, there were recent discoveries about labor rights violations in the preparation for the World Cup. This news has overpowered the previous hype and excitement about the distinction such an event could bring to the Middle East.

Qatar’s oil-dependent economic success allows for the country to spend limitless amounts of money to build top-of-the-line stadiums for this major event. While construction is still in its preliminary stages, the blueprint for infrastructure has been outlined and execution has already begun. This opportunity has generated new jobs for millions of workers, mainly from other countries, which is beneficial for alleviation of poverty.

A projected 1.8 million migrant workers that have traveled to work in Qatar have primarily come from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India and Nepal. The labor accommodations and provisions provided by Qatar for these laborers have shown to be less than adequate, however, especially considering news that surfaced about workers last summer.

In September 2013, information surfaced revealing Nepali workers dying from lack of access to food and water. Whilst working on the new Al Wakrah stadium just south of the capital, Doha, temperatures were as high as 113-120 degrees. The horrible working conditions, combined with extreme heat, allegedly caused these causalities, although officials from both Qatar and Nepal have denied this report. The extreme pressure now placed on Qatari contractors, however, seems to prove otherwise.

These allegations necessitated surveillance of the working conditions in Qatar by FIFA, Amnesty International, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Trade Union Confederations (ITUC). In keeping a close eye on the contractors and workers, it was publicized that not many changes were made even after the accusations.

In fact, it was also discovered that a Qatari law called “kafala” was in place, which requires that the migrants hand over their passports and thus cannot leave the country without approval. Their wages were also being withheld for months at time. These revelations brought about public discourse on the obligation for workers’ rights to be formally recognized, and for the contractors to implement laws to protect them.

The Supreme Committee of FIFA and the ILO laid out the standards on workers’ accommodations and wages and included the need for strict inspections in a 50-page document. The committee and the labor bureau also upped the number of inspectors by 30 percent since the allegations were made about Nepali workers. The inspectors’ main duty is to monitor the contractors and make sure they are obeying the laws outlined in the document.

Specifically, some of the requirements within the document include higher wages, better medical care, improved living conditions, meals, bedrooms, as well as mandatory employment contracts.

These laws, unfortunately, apply only to infrastructure directly related to FIFA and the World Cup. The infrastructure being built for the media, fans and players do not technically have to abide by the laws outlined by FIFA. This does include, however, the dozen stadiums and training camps being built to accommodate the 32 competing teams.

There was a rumor on the prospective idea of moving the 2022 World Cup to another location, but FIFA denied that claim, saying that the location is a firm-standing decision. A member of FIFA’s committee, Theo Zwanziger, has called such an idea “counterproductive,” stating that “there will still be human-rights violations, but the spotlight wouldn’t be on [Qatar].” He also mentioned that FIFA would “not turn a blind eye” to the violations.

While the ITUC seems to still question if the document will be implemented, Zwanziger raises a valuable point in Qatar’s working conditions being center stage right now. Perhaps labor rights for all workers in Qatar can benefit from this circumstance.

If the labor rights can be improved, this could be a hopeful symbol for the future of the Middle East. A member of the Qatari embassy wrote to the European Parliament on the matter: “The state of Qatar, its government and its people, not only take their international obligations and issues of human rights extremely seriously, but also deeply believe in preserving human dignity.”

Qatar is required to give a report to FIFA about the changes being made and the improvement of accommodations for workers. Hopefully the document will be implemented and the millions of workers will be compensated and accommodated accordingly. If so, perhaps the discourse can return to the excitement for the World Cup in an unexpected location in 2022. Conceivably, these circumstances in Qatar could become cause for improved labor rights in other nations as well.

– Danielle Warren

Sources: Aljazeera, FIFA, Reuters, Wall Street Journal
Photo: Al Jazeera

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