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Qatar under the microscope

Qatar under the microscope

Qatar has consistently denied that migrant workers involved in preparations for this year’s World Cup have suffered human rights abuses. But a new Amnesty International report has forced them to admit some of the problems.

Allegations of human rights abuses in Qatar are well documented. 

There’s the plight of migrant workers building stadiums for this year’s World Cup including allegations of slavery and even deaths due to unsafe working conditions. 

And questions about the treatment of gay people in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

But the world of football, which will descend on the gulf state for its celebration of the sport, has never agreed on what to do about it.

A boycott has been suggested, but Gareth Southgate thinks there are better ways to highlight the issues.

“I don’t really know what that achieves. I mean, it of course would be a big story. But this tournament would go ahead. And the fact is that unfortunately, the biggest issue probably that is non-religious and non-cultural is what happened with the building of the stadiums.”

Sky Sports News

This was how Qatar 2022’s chief executive, Nasser Al Khater, responded to the England manager.

“My question would be who from the England squad has he been to Qatar? Is he basing his opinions and basing his public statements on what he’s read? Because it’s kind of an issue when you just base an opinion, that you’re very vocal about, on things that you have read. Somebody with a lot of influence such as Southgate, somebody with a big audience that listens to what he says…has got to pick his words very carefully.”

Sky Sports News

“My question to the Coach is, has he been to Qatar?”

Well, Amnesty International has…

“I travelled to Qatar to meet migrant workers there in the country, meet officials but also travel to sending countries to meet migrant workers in their home countries and hear their stories and experience working in Qatar.”

Amnesty International

They looked at working conditions for the hundreds of thousands of workers – mainly from Africa and Asia – who have been building seven stadiums, hotels, an airport and an entire new city before the World Cup. 

And in November last year they released a report, accusing Qatar of exploiting them.

Over 48 pages it set out allegations including wage theft and unsafe working conditions. 

And it called on the England team to highlight some of the issues it had uncovered.

The Qatar government rejected the claims in that report, but now there are fresh allegations of human rights abuses in Qatar, and its response has been a little different this time. 

“Amnesty International have released a new report claiming that security guards working on World Cup related projects in Qatar have been subjected to forced labour. The report claims that abuses in the private security sector are systematic and structural, with overwork, no time off and punishments for not wearing uniforms correctly.”

Sky Sports News

That new report titled “they think we’re machines,” contradicts Qatar’s assertion that it has a maximum 60-hour working week rule.

Instead it found that some workers have been on the job for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. If they took a day off, their salary was cut by between one and six days. 

“They must have a kafeel…or a sponsor to enter the country and to work. At any point and for any reason, the sponsor may withdraw a worker’s sponsorship, leaving them undocumented and at risk of arrest.”

“So in a nutshell, these elements of this kafala system create this power imbalance between workers and employers and are usually used by unscrupulous employers to abuse and exploit migrant workers.”

Amnesty International

One worker hadn’t had a day off for three years. Another said he had been fined half his basic monthly wage for not tucking in his shirt properly after using the bathroom.

This time, Qatar’s government has admitted there are problems.

It says it has “taken immediate action to remedy individual cases of wrongdoing.”

But it also insists that its labour system is “robust.” 

And it would prefer Amnesty to instead report on what it calls some of the “success stories” of building the stadiums for the World Cup. 

So it’s not a full admission.

World football’s governing body, FIFA, which organises the World Cup, met with Amnesty last month.

It says it’s fully committed to ensuring the protection of workers, and the World Cup is a chance for “broader positive change” across the host country.

But Amnesty wants FIFA to go further by using its leverage to pressure Qatar to better implement reforms and enforce its labour laws.

With the World Cup just months away, and after years of reported human rights abuses in Qatar, it’s unclear what leverage FIFA might have at this point.

Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford and mixed by Imy Harper.