Amnesty International last week revealed that up to 100 migrant workers employed by design and construction company Qatar Meta Coats (QMC) have been working on a construction project for a FIFA World Cup stadium in Qatar without pay for the last seven months. The workers have also not had their residence permits renewed, a requirement for foreigners working in Qatar. Without these, the migrants, who hail from nations such as Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, and the Philippines, face risk of detention and deportation. Since Amnesty International raised the issue with the Qatari authorities, FIFA, and Qatar’s World Cup organisers, some employees have started to receive part of what they were owed, but large sums remain outstanding. Amnesty International is calling on Qatar and its World Cup partners to demand that all QMC workers are paid in full and swiftly provided with valid legal documents.
Steve Cockburn, Head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International explains how workers “are worried about their families, who rely on the money they send home from Qatar to pay school fees and medical bills (…) this case is the latest damning illustration of how easy it still is to exploit workers in Qatar.” Cockburn went on to criticize FIFA for not putting more pressure on Qatar, pointing out that “if, over the past ten years, FIFA had held its World Cup partners to account (…) we wouldn’t be hearing the same tales of workers’ suffering with only two-and-a-half years to kick-off”.
FIFA’s response has been subdued. Despite confirming that they will be working to ensure that outstanding wages are paid, they have distanced themselves from the case by denying, without evidence, that this incident was a fair reflection of the processes in place to protect workers’ rights or FIFA’s ‘commitment to human rights’.
The Qatari government has also responded to Amnesty International in a statement outlining intolerance towards “the unscrupulous treatment of workers”, explaining they are “firmly committed to the task” of seeing migrant workers get paid and that employees treat workers fairly. QMC has been suspended from working on World Cup projects until all outstanding salaries have been paid. Since Qatar was awarded the World Cup in December 2010, migrant workers have flocked to the country and the population has grown by more than a million. 95% of Qatar’s labour force are migrant workers. Over the last decade, there has been a steady stream of reports and documents outlining the exploitation of migrant workers on World Cup sites. In March, The Guardian reported that there had been 34 stadium worker deaths in the last six years.
Exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar is common under the ‘Kafala’ system, which legally binds workers to their employers, making it difficult for the worker to change jobs and in some cases leave the country without the permission of their employer. The International Trade Union Confederation has described the Kafala system as a form of modern-day slavery. Although a series of reforms were introduced in Qatar last year to improve workers right and outlaw the Kafala system, these have been largely superficial. James Lynch, director of human rights NGO Fair/Square Projects reports how “Qatar has been promising to abolish kafala since at least 2014 (…), [yet] most of the World Cup stadiums and infrastructure were built by workers bound by this exploitative system.”
In summer 2022, all eyes will be on Qatar as they host one of the worlds most anticipated events, the World Cup. Yet underneath the façade of shiny new stadiums lurks important questions surrounding the practices that led to their creation. How can FIFA, a body so immensely powerful and wealthy, claim a commitment to human rights when large scale exploitation can happen in its name? Why have they not ensured basic workers’ rights are upheld? In the inevitable frenzy of heat, hattricks, and heartbreak, these are the questions that we must keep on asking.
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