The World Cup due to be played in Qatar in 2022 will be « a crucible of exploitation and misery » for poorly paid migrant workers who will toil on the country’s construction sites, the campaigning organisation Human Rights Watch will warn in a report due to be published on Thursday.
In its World Report 2013, HRW is expected to say workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal and other south Asian countries suffer forced labour, low pay, insanitary and overcrowded living conditions and other violations of their human rights when they arrive to work in Qatar, one of the world’s richest countries.
HRW says the Qatar government has not fulfilled pledges made when Fifa awarded the World Cup to the country, to improve the conditions for workers who will build nine new stadiums and massive infrastructure projects for the tournament. Although there are concerns within the football establishment about players and supporters enduring the heat of Qatar if the tournament is played in the summer of 2022, HRW argues no similar care is being taken for the workers labouring in that summer heat every year.
HRW, which published an extensive report into workers’ human rights in Qatar in June, found that some workers have to live in « overcrowded and unsanitary labour camps », which lacked clean water, ventilation or air-conditioning, « crucial elements for adequately minimising the risk of heat stroke ».
Many of the 1.2 million migrant workers, who form 88% of the country’s population, suffer the kafala sponsorship system, which ties them to a single employer. That means they cannot change jobs without the consent of that employer, other than in exceptional cases, and to leave Qatar they need the sponsoring employer to grant an exit visa, which can be refused. Employers « routinely » confiscate workers’ passports, HRW says.
« Qatar has some of the most restrictive sponsorship laws in the Gulf region and forced labour and human trafficking are serious problems, » the HRW World Report will state. « The government has failed to address shortcomings in the legal and regulatory framework despite the initiation of many large-scale projects for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup. »
Qatar’s bid included commitments that the situation of workers in the country would be improved but HRW argues little progress has been made. There remains no legal right to form or join a trade union and no minimum wage. Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, said that, combined with the kafala system, workers are suffering « forced labour » in Qatar.
« The World Cup in 2022 was awarded by Fifa to a country which treats workers as modern-day slaves, » Burrow said. Calling on Qatar to improve its labour laws and practices, including outlawing recruitment fees charged to workers, she cited figures from the Nepal government that 200 Nepali migrant workers died last year working in Qatar. « More workers will die building World Cup infrastructure than players will take to the field, » Burrows predicted.
The Qatar 2022 supreme committee told the Guardian it has nearly finalised a « migrant worker charter » for all World Cup-related projects, that it will include labour requirements in its tender documents and work with HRW and other stakeholders to seek « the highest health and safety and worker welfare standards to the benefit of all major projects in Qatar ».
The Qatari government, contacted via the embassy in London, did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment on the issues raised by Human Rights Watch.