Qatar World Cup
There is little doubt that the Doha skyline is one of the world’s most impressive; Qatar is a great place to work if you are an architect. But if you are one of the people building those towers, Qatar may not be such a great place to work. The same goes for any of the two million foreign workers in the country — some 94.1% of all employed in Qatar are foreign nationals (Bel-Air, 2014). The human rights abuses faced by the workers who work to keep Qatar running, especially in the construction sector, have come into even greater focus with the country being awarded the 2022 World Cup (Bel-Air, 2014). This paper will examine the human rights abuses of foreign workers in Qatar.
Migrant Workers in Qatar
The native population of Qatar is relatively small — Qataris account for only a few hundred thousand of the country’s 2.2 million population (CIA World Factbook, 2016). There were only 16,000 people in the country, mostly nomadic Bedouins, when the oil fields were first discovered in 1949 (Bel-Air, 2014). Even at this point, it was necessary to import Indian workers to help build out the gas industry, so the tradition of bringing over foreign workers began at that time.
The country is a small peninsula that juts into the Persian Gulf from the Arabian Peninsula and Saudi Arabia. Qatar owes its wealth to oil fields, and this wealth has created a robust economy. The local Qataris are generally well-taken care of, in the sense that they receive a stipend from the government, and basically need not work. Many choose to, but to keep the country running, Qatar (along with many other Gulf countries) is forced to import foreign workers. Most of the foreign workers come from India, Pakistan,
Foreign workers do pretty much everything in the country, save for some executive level positions, usually in government. The middle class workers typically do not face the worst of the abuses, but the uneducated, and particularly unskilled workers, face severe human rights abuses. Workers typically must surrender their passports with their employer. This creates a situation where the employer holds considerable power over the worker, and many employers abuse this power. Workers are frequently denied rights to days off, freedom to move jobs, wages, and they are often forced to work in brutal conditions, such as working outside in the Qatari summer when temperatures approach 50C. Indoor workers such as maids faced physical and sexual abuse, as the likelihood of prosecution against a Qatari is very low (Falconer, 2014).
The World Cup was controversially awarded to Qatar, to take place in 2022. The decision seemed absurd — Qatar was bidding against Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States, all large countries with big populations and many stadiums. Qatar, on the other hand, is a small country with only a couple of stadiums, no soccer history, and temperatures in June when the World Cup is played are far too hot to play soccer safely. The bid seemed implausible, so winning was even more so. Qatar reported spend Â£117m on its World Cup bid, an unprecedented number (Sale, 2015). Corruption was a significant factor in Qatar winning the World Cup, and subsequently many officials were indicted, and FIFA leadership turfed from the game, for the corruption in connection with the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar (Fontevecchia, 2015).
The corruption controversy has cast light onto Qatar’s labor practices, especially where unskilled labor is concerned. Amnesty International is one of the human rights’ groups that has studied Qatar. The system for foreign workers is that a sponsoring company brings them over, but this company will typically charge a fee. The workers pay because they have no work at home, but by paying they cannot leave, as they will owe the company a debt, and cannot get their passports from the company without payment. The company controls many other aspects of their lives, too. According to Amnesty International, this often means squalid, cramped accommodation, they are often deceived about the type of work they will be doing in Qatar, often they are not paid for several months, they are not given residence permits so are at mercy of local officials and they are threatened if they try to assert their rights (Amnesty International, 2016).
The issue is compounded by indifference on the part of both FIFA and the Qatari government. Employers maintain all control in this system, which keeps the workers trapped with their employer. When the employer is abusive, there is no recourse for the workers. The Qatari government enacted labor reforms in 2015, but the core of the sponsorship system, kafala, remain intact. The employers still hold all of the power in the system, and the workers have no meaningful means by which they can exercise their human rights. So again, even with the reforms, the workers in Qatar are all but defenseless against abuses (HRW, 2015). Key here is that the employer holds the passport, and the Qatari government will not issue an exit permit with the permission of the employer; the employee has no means by which to exit an abusive situation.
This topic is important because it is an ongoing issue, and because of the degree of Western complicity. The West cannot make every situation in the world perfect, but the clear link between the abuses and FIFA and the Qatari government highlights that the West is turning a blind eye to the abuses in Qatar and other Gulf countries. Qatar is not facing sanction, and in fact is receiving reward, for its abuses.
There has not been much in the way of scholarly work on this topic. Dodson lent a rhetorical analysis of the media’s reaction. This work helps to examine how this issue is framed in the West. The issue was bigger in the UK, which was bidding on the 2018 World Cup, which was awarded at the same time as the 2022 event, again under allegations of corruption (Dodson, 2014). Other media have not discussed the story much — the abuses continue but most of the media work has been done by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Another analysis looked directly at the use of slave labor, and what the European Court of Human Rights can do — an interesting examination given that Qatar is not in Europe and neither are the people being abused from Europe. This study focused on Nepalese workers, many of whom died during their time working in Qatar (Engle, 2014).
Other than those two studies, most of the work done on the issue has been through conventional media outlets and those specifically focused on human rights and workers’ issues. These media are therefore the primary sources for this exploration of the topic.
The labor abuses in Qatar have not stopped. The stadiums are being built, mostly on the outskirts of Doha, and there is even a metro line being built to connect the stadiums. So the project is tremendously ambitious and the project is going ahead full steam. Workers still have no meaningful rights, and neither the Qatari government nor FIFA seem to have much motivation to genuinely address the human rights issue. In other words, nothing has really changed. Whatever hand-wringing their was in the media, no changes have been made and the workers still face brutal conditions and a lack of basic rights.
Amnesty International (2016) Qatar: Abuse of World Cup workers exposed. Amnesty International Retrieved November 29, 2016 from https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/03/abuse-of-world-cup-workers-exposed/
Bel-Air, F. (2014) Demography, migration and labour market in Qatar. Cadmus Exploratory Note No. 8. Retrieved November 29, 2016 from http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/32431/GLMM_ExpNote_08-2014.pdf?sequence=1
CIA World Factbook (2016) Qatar. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved November 29, 2016 from http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/32431/GLMM_ExpNote_08-2014.pdf?sequence=1
Dodson, J. (2014) A rhetorical analysis of FIFA’s media response to human rights abuses in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. University of Portland. Retrieved November 29, 2016 from http://pilotscholars.up.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=cst_gradpubs
Engle, M. (2014) An analysis of the use of slave labor in preparation for the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup and how the European Court of Human Rights can stop it. Hofstra Labor &Employment Law Journal. Vol. 32 (1) 177-215.
Falconer, R. (2014) Qatar’s foreign domestic workers subjected to slave-like conditions. The Guardian. Retrieved November 29, 2016 from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/feb/26/qatar-foreign-workers-slave-conditions
Fontevecchia, A. (2015) Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid marked the beginning of the end for FIFA’s Sepp Blatter. Forbes. Retrieved November 29, 2016 from http://www.forbes.com/sites/afontevecchia/2015/06/02/qatars-2022-world-cup-bid-marked-the-beginning-of-the-end-for-fifas-sepp-blatter/#1cb426db28db
HRW (2015) Qatar: New reforms won’t protect migrant workers. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved November 29, 2016 from https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/11/08/qatar-new-reforms-wont-protect-migrant-workers
Sale, C. (2015) Qatar spent Â£117m to win 2022 World Cup. Daily Mail. Retrieved November 29, 2016 from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3348572/Qatar-spent-117m-win-2022-World-Cup-bid-BBC-s-Panorama-reveals-six-times-England-s-failed-2018-campaign.html
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