The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar's Construction Sector Ahead of the World Cup

November 17, 2013

The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar's Construction Sector Ahead of the World Cup

Some of the situations that Amnesty International found were deep crises, with large groups of migrant workers - undocumented through no fault of their own - facing a range of serious problems simultaneously: not being paid for six or nine months; not being able to get out of the country; not having enough - or any - food; and being housed in very poor accommodation with poor sanitation, or no electricity.

Researchers carried out interviews in candlelight and met workers who had been sleeping on the roof of their accommodation because their rooms had no air conditioning, despite the very high summer temperatures.

ILO Convention 29 on Forced Labour, to which Qatar is a state party, defines forced labour as encompassing two key elements: work that the person has not offered themselves for voluntarily and which is extracted under threat of a penalty. The ILO has emphasized that "menace of penalty" refers not only to criminal sanctions but also to various forms of coercion, such as threats, violence, retention of identity documents, confinement or nonpayment of wages:

"The key issue is that workers should be free to leave an employment relationship without losing any rights or privileges. Examples are the threat to lose a wage that is due to the worker or the right to be protected from violence."

Amnesty International found cases where people were engaged in work for which they had not offered themselves voluntarily - because they had been deceived about their terms or conditions, or had pay withheld for months at a time. They faced credible threats of penalties if they were to stop working. The threatened penalties included withholding passports, withholding permission to leave the country and failure to provide pending salaries. These cases constitute forced labour. Where migrants had clearly been deceived into situations of forced labour, they were also victims of human trafficking.

Many officials at both the Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Interior stated to Amnesty International researchers their commitment to protecting migrant workers' rights. But officials from all government bodies tend to downplay the scale of the abuse that migrant workers are subjected to in Qatar. Most officials stated that while there may be isolated or individual cases of exploitation, there are no significant wider problems to be addressed.

Amnesty International would not claim that all migrant workers in Qatar are subject to serious abuse, as researchers spoke to men and women who were broadly satisfied with their working conditions. Some employers are evidently committed to ensuring labour standards. Nevertheless Amnesty International's research - and review of the available independent quantitative data - leads the organization to conclude that exploitation of migrant workers is routine and widespread. This is based on the following: