More than a year after Qatar’s government promised limited reforms to improve migrant labor rights, hopes of true progress are fading fast, says Amnesty International in a new briefing published today.
The briefing, Promising Little, Delivering Less: Qatar and Migrant Labor Abuse Ahead of the 2022 Football World Cup, features a ‘scorecard’ that rates the authorities’ response to nine fundamental migrant labor rights issues identified by Amnesty International. A year later, only limited progress has been achieved on five of these issues, in four areas the authorities have failed to make any improvements.
“Qatar is failing migrant workers. Last year the government made promises to improve migrant labor rights in Qatar, but in practice, there have been no significant advances in the protection of rights,” said Mustafa Qadri, Gulf migrant rights researcher at Amnesty International.
Over the last 12 months, little has changed in law, policy and practice for the more than 1.5 million migrant workers in Qatar who remain at the mercy of their sponsors and employers. On the crucial issues of the exit permit, the restriction on changing employers in Qatar’s kafala system, protection of domestic workers and the freedom to form or join trade union –there has been no progress whatsoever.
“The lack of a clear roadmap of targets and benchmarks for reform leaves serious doubts about Qatar’s commitment to tackling migrant labor abuse. Without prompt action, the pledges Qatar made last year are at serious risk of being dismissed as a mere public relations stunt to ensure the Gulf state can cling on to the 2022 World Cup,” said Qadri.
FIFA is set to elect its new president next week, on May 29. Football’s world governing body has a clear responsibility to prioritize the issue of exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar and must publicly and privately call on the Qatari authorities to implement effective reforms to protect migrant worker rights.
“FIFA has spent much time, money and political capital investigating alleged corruption in the Russia and Qatar World Cup bids, and agonizing over the scheduling of the tournament. But the organization has yet to demonstrate any real commitment to ensuring Qatar 2022 is not built on a foundation of exploitation and abuse,” said Qadri.
“FIFA must work closely with the government, the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee – the body responsible for organizing the Qatar World Cup – major corporate partners and others responsible for delivering the tournament to prevent abuses linked to the staging of the World Cup.”
The most significant reform proposed by the government last year: the introduction of an electronic wage system to change the way migrants' salaries are paid, is still in the process of being implemented. Many migrants interviewed by Amnesty International in recent months still complained of late or non-payment of wages.
Qatar has also failed to meet its target to have 300 labor inspectors in place by the end of 2014.There has been only limited progress on measures to improve safety on construction sites, regulate exploitative recruitment agencies and improve access to justice for victims of labor exploitation.
Even if all the reforms Qatar announced in May 2014 had been implemented, these measures would not be sufficient to address the root causes behind widespread exploitation of migrant workers.
In November 2013, a report published by Amnesty International revealed that abuse and exploitation of migrant construction workers was rife and in some cases amounted to forced labor. Although Qatar has since repeatedly expressed a strong desire to stamp out this abuse, for many migrants very little has changed.
Ranjith, a Sri Lankan migrant worker interviewed by Amnesty International this year, has not been paid since he arrived in Qatar five months ago. He has no ID and no contract. His accommodation in a workers camp in the Industrial Area is cramped and filthy.
"I just want to work and earn some money for my wife and children, but because of my sponsor I can't change jobs. If I go to the police they will arrest me and deport me because I do not have an ID,” he told Amnesty International.
“The reality is that more than a year and half after Amnesty International highlighted rampant exploitation of migrants –little has been done to address the root causes of this abuse. We are one year closer to Qatar’s 2022 World Cup –time for changes to be implemented is running out,” said Qadri.
“With Qatar’s construction boom continuing and the migrant worker population set to expand to 2.5 million, the need for urgent reform is more pressing than ever.”
Rather than take the necessary action to address labor exploitation, recent action by the Qatari authorities raises questions about whether they are more interested in covering up abuse than stamping it out.
Journalists and human rights workers investigating conditions for migrant workers in Qatar have faced detention and interrogation by the authorities. In the past month alone, journalists doing separate investigations into exploitation of migrant workers for the German broadcaster WDR and the BBC have been detained.
“Seeking to silence those documenting the conditions of migrant workers by detaining and intimidating them sends the message that the government is more concerned about its image than dealing with the appalling reality of the tens of thousands of men and women who are abused in Qatar,” said Qadri.