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Human Trafficking Center

A World Cup Built on Exploitation and Forced Labor in Qatar


Apr 2015



by Kara Napolitano, Associate

Note: This blog post was originally published on the International Human Trafficking Institute website. You can find the original post here.

Changing the date of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from the sizzling summer months of June and July to November and December may make it safer for players and fans, but will do nothing to stem the violence being perpetrated against hundreds of thousands of laborers preparing for the games today.

An International Trade Union Confederation Report estimates that 4,000 laborers will have died in the service of FIFA and the World Cup – building hotels, stadiums, airports and other necessary infrastructure – by 2022. Construction companies and the Qatari authorities are failing migrant workers, and employers in Qatar have shown an appalling disregard for their basic human rights. Amid allegations of bribery and corruption surrounding Qatar’s bid for the World Cup, FIFA should take greater responsibility in securing workers’ rights in the lead up to the 2022 games.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), in 2013 Qatar hosted 1.38 million foreign nationals who accounted for 94% of the labor workforce, the majority of whom are from South Asia. This number is expected to grow by about a million over the next 10 years.

Like other countries in the region, Qatar has been widely criticized for human rights violations and lax policy on labor standards within the country. In 2014, the U.S. government downgraded Qatar’s status in theTrafficking in Persons report to Tier 2 Watch List because “the government did not demonstrate evidence of overall increasing efforts to address human trafficking since the previous reporting period.” Since FIFA announced its decision to allow Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup and construction began, there have been more than 1,000 deaths.

In addition, according to a 2013 Amnesty International Report, accident rates have reached more than 1,000 per year. The most prevalent accident being victims falling from heights at worksites, resulting in 10% of these workers being left paralyzed.

The other major causes of death were heart attacks and heart complications among a mostly young, male workforce. Survivors of these conditions complain of horrendous working and living conditions and lack of safety measures, sometimes working 60-80 hours per week in temperatures that can reach over 120 degrees in summer months

Recent, well-documented allegations against international construction projects have shed more light on violations and are pressuring the government to take notice. In early 2015, a French company that was appointed to run the London Olympic Stadium was sued for its complacency in the face of human rights abuses and cases of human trafficking at its operations in Qatar. This company is accused of flagrant labor abuses perpetrated by subcontractors through a series of complex contractual chains, some resulting in labor trafficking.

Other international companies have also been implicated with similar assertions in the Amnesty International Report and by Humanity United in partnership with The Guardian.  Several of the companies are conducting internal investigations in response to these allegations.

The Qatari government has committed to reducing labor violations and protecting victims by embracing a Workers’ Charter protecting migrant workers’ rights, which was signed in 2013, and reforming labor laws to improve the migrant payment system. While some progress has been made to address trafficking risks and concerns, there is no established timetable for implementation of these new laws and they remain largely unenforced, communicated to the public only as mandates. Other Gulf States have suffered similar allegations of complacency.

Many of the abuses taking place in Qatar are blamed on the kafala system, which regulates migration of migrant workers through a sponsorship system. Migrants must have sponsorship by Qatari citizens, cannot leave the country without the sponsor’s permission, are often indebted by the recruitment process upon arrival, and sometimes do not have control of their passports. These conditions lead to major labor abuses ranging from withholding of pay, to excessive working hours, to outright physical violence and squalid living standards.

The kafala system is perpetuating abuses in Qatar by creating a system of subordination and indebtedness and its use should be stopped. The international community must keep pressure on FIFA and international companies operating in Qatar. FIFA should take greater responsibility in monitoring Qatar’s progress towards implementing reforms for labor and human trafficking violations in order to uphold international human rights standards and the prominence of the World Cup.

For more information, please refer this Amnesty International Report regarding trafficking violations in Qatar:

The dark side of migration: spotlight on Qatar’s construction ahead of the World Cup

Photo: Via Flickr

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