AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Dutch government has postponed a trade mission to Qatar this month, citing concern over the living conditions of migrant workers helping the Gulf state to prepare for next year’s soccer World Cup.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper last week reported that its calculations showed that at least 6,500 migrant workers had died in Qatar since it won the right to stage the 2022 World Cup 10 years ago.
Many of them worked on World Cup projects, a labour rights advocacy group told the paper.
“This report has led to a broad discussion in Dutch society and in parliament,” Dutch foreign ministry spokesman Jeroen van Dommelen said.
“We have talked before with Qatar about the poor conditions for these workers, but these numbers give the discussion a new meaning. We want to hear Qatar’s response before we can think of a new date for the mission.”
In response to the Guardian report, Qatar said the reported deaths were “within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population” of the workers concerned.
The mortality rate had consistently declined since 2010 due to health and safety reforms, the government said.
The trade mission, which was to be held as a video conference due to coronavirus related travel restrictions, had been scheduled for March 22 to April 1.
Qatar had not responded yet to the Dutch government’s decision, Van Dommelen said.
A majority of parties in the Dutch parliament last week called on the government and King Willem-Alexander to stay away from the World Cup next year in protest against the treatment of migrant workers.
The human rights group Amnesty International has repeatedly said the tournament organiser’s worker welfare standards are inadequate to prevent abuses and provide timely remedies. It has also accused soccer’s governing body, FIFA, of failing to take seriously alleged human rights abuses linked to the event.
Qatar announced changes to its labour laws last August, raising the minimum wage by 25% to 1,000 riyals ($275) a month and scrapping a requirement for workers to obtain permission from their employers to change jobs.
The Guardian said the true death toll among migrant workers in Qatar was likely to be much higher than 6,500, because this figure was based on data only from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka and excluded other countries that send large numbers of workers to Qatar.
(Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by David Goodman and Angus MacSwan)