QATAR — The Guardian is reporting that harsh workplace conditions may cost more than 4,000 migrant construction workers their lives as they struggle to prepare for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. In recent months, dozens of Nepalese workers have died and many others face grueling labor conditions. The Guardian investigation found evidence that workers are subjected to abuses that amount to slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
These abuses include forced labor, lack of access to drinking water, withheld compensation, and confiscation of passports and identification. The United Nations’ ILO has warned that Qatar–one of the richest nations in the world–is failing to implement an international convention that prohibits the use of forced labor. Azfar Khan, the ILO’s senior labor migration adviser in the Arab states, said that the alleged abuses are, “untenable in the context of modern labor standards.” He also expressed concern about the lack of coherence in terms of Qatar’s policy and confusion as to which agency is overseeing the work conditions for migrant laborers.
These allegations of migrant worker abuse are not new. In 2012, Human Rights Watch released a report that documents, “pervasive employer exploitation and abuse of workers in Qatar’s construction industry, made possible by an inadequate legal and regulatory framework that grants employers extensive control over workers and prohibits migrant workers from exercising their rights to free association and collective bargaining.” According to the report, migrant workers–mostly from South Asia–comprise 94 percent of Qatar’s workforce, which is the highest ratio of migrants to citizens in the world.
The Guardian’s more recent investigation revealed that 44 Nepalese workers died between June 4 and August 8 of this year. Workers’ unions warn that at current rates, more than 4,000 migrant laborers will die between now and the World Cup in 2022 unless the government improves laborers’ work and living conditions.
The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, in charge of organizing the World Cup, responded to the investigation saying that they are “appalled” by the revelations. The Committee’s statement suggested that the Qatari government would conduct an investigation and stated the following: “We firmly believe that all workers engaged on our projects, and those of the other infrastructure developers in Qatar, have a right to be treated in a manner that ensures at all times their well-being, safety, security, and dignity.”
Rhetoric aside, there has been no response from the Qatari government about how it aims to improve working and living conditions for migrant workers. Without changes to labor practices, migrant workers will continue to suffer and die as Qatar prepares for the World Cup.
– Daniel Bonasso
Sources: The Guardian, HRW, Aljazeera