SEATTLE — Qatar is the world’s wealthiest nation with a GDP (PPP) per capita of $127,000 international dollars–twice that of the United States. The small nation of less than 2.5 million residents is home to one of the world’s largest natural gas reserves, sourcing its prosperity.
These resources have created a wealthy government and populace. To be born Qatari is to be born wealthy, since the government redistributes its resources to ensure native Qataris have access to high-paying, government-funded jobs and free education and healthcare. Only 15 percent of Qatar’s residents are natives. The nation has attracted many foreign financiers and energy executives looking for a share of the wealth.
Qatar’s wealth is not shared by everybody. More than half of Qatar’s inhabitants are migrant workers living in overcrowded and unsanitary labor camps. These laborers may live with anywhere from six to eight others in one room, with access to only the most basic kitchens and latrines. Death rates among migrant workers often go unreported.
So Why is Qatar Poor?
The vast majority of people working in Qatar are low-skilled laborers that are abused and exploited by Qatar’s labor system, which facilitates trafficking and forced labor.
Under Qatar’s sponsorship system, recruiters and employers have great power over migrant workers they have placed under contract. Employers can confiscate migrant passports and keep them from changing employers or even leaving the country.
These powers have enabled employers to widely exploit laborers by withholding salary, manipulating contracts, overworking them in temperatures as high as 120°F and physically and sexually abusing them. Laborers lack the right to form a union and often do not report instances of abuse due to threat of deportation from employers.
Advocating for Migrant Rights
These appalling conditions have caused the International Labour Organization (ILO) to refer to Qatar as a “21st-century slave state.”
Qatar has made some modest efforts to improve migrant worker rights, especially those building infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. However, non-governmental organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have sharply criticized Qatar for failing to touch the most abusive elements of its labor system.
While the reasons why Qatar is poor are pervasive, there is hope that Qatar will continue to enact labor reforms. The nation is under pressure from an ILO investigation to prove that it is making significant efforts to reduce abuses of migrant workers building infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Qatar has until November 2017 to prove that it is making a genuine effort to end labor abuses.
– Carson Hughes