Migrant workers often live in deplorable conditions. Credit: Metro World News
In 2010, Jatendra left his native India for Qatar, lured by the promise of higher wages and the excitement of travel.
“At first, it was OK,” says the construction worker, now 24. “But then the company ran out of money, and we went nine months without our salaries. Food was a problem, and we were not allowed to do other work, so we just stayed in our rooms.”
“The company told us to keep working, but we went on strike. They said if you don’t work you wouldn’t get any money. I think it was a type of slavery,” he added.
Jatendra says he never received the money he was owed by Krantz Engineers, one of the companies profiled in Amnesty International's report, "Dark Side of Migration," which alleges systematic abuse of Qatar’s migrant workers. More than 1.5 million of these laborers comprise almost 95 percent of Qatar’s workforce, while new construction will drive that figure up by another million ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
The report alleges that many are victims of forced labor, working under threat or without pay. The "kefala" system that requires all migrants to have a native sponsor is being abused, the report alleges, giving employers the power to keep workers from changing jobs, leaving the country or lodging complaints about their working conditions.
Further, these conditions are often unsafe. The Nepalese embassy reported that 174 of its nationals died in 2012, and Qatar’s Labor Ministry found that 30 percent of companies breached safety standards. Around 11 percent of laborers had suffered injuries, and half of these could have been avoided through safety precautions. The report also found the laborers' accommodations to be dangerous, with surveyed facilities lacking water, electricity and air conditioning; some were contaminated by raw sewage.
“It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive,” said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International.
The organization also attacks FIFA for “assertions that it is not responsible and cannot change things,” demanding that football’s governing body pressure the 2022 World Cup hosts to improve worker conditions. The report alleges that specific World Cup construction projects are subject to abuse.
Specific demands of Qatar include the abolition of the sponsor system, improved labor rights such as the freedom to join unions and more inspections of construction sites.
Qatari officials claim improvements are underway. “Some systems were developed at a different time in Qatar’s life and need to be changed,” said Hassan Al-Thawadi, head of the 2022 organising committee.
FIFA has long argued that the World Cup would help its host nation reach international standards of human rights. But this embarrassing report suggests it may be part of the problem.