World Cup 2022: Qatar pledge on worker rights ‘mere PR stunt’

CNN  — 

Amnesty International says world football governing body FIFA is failing to demonstrate any sort of commitment to ensuring Qatar 2022 is “not built on a foundation of exploitation and abuse.”

In 2010 the Gulf state won the right to host the World Cup in 2022, but the decision to award the tournament to Qatar left it and FIFA with a number of headaches.

Both Qatar and FIFA have been forced to answer allegations of poor working conditions and abuse of immigrant workers brought in to build the facilities for the World Cup, while questions have been raised about the bidding process – in which, also, Russia was awarded the 2018 tournament.

Human rights group Amnesty’s report says FIFA has been unable to deliver the necessary oversight to ensure Qatar keeps its promises to improve conditions and legislate against the mistreatment of migrant workers.

An estimated 1.5 million migrant workers will be key to building the infrastructure for the World Cup.

The report says, “Without prompt action, the pledges Qatar made last year are at serious risk of being dismissed as a mere public relations stunt to ensure the Gulf state can cling on to the 2022 World Cup.”

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Campaigners target Qatar World Cup
05:23 - Source: CNN

Mustafa Qadri, Gulf migrant rights researcher at Amnesty International, said, “Qatar is failing migrant workers. Last year the government made promises to improve migrant labor rights in Qatar, but in practice, there have been no significant advances in the protection of rights.”

Qatar’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MOLSA) said it disagreed with a number of Amnesty’s “claims.”

The MOLSA statement added: “Significant changes have been made over the last year to improve the rights and conditions of expatriate workers.”

A spokesman for Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy welcomed the report and promised to “move forward with internal and external stakeholders on our efforts to deliver a World Cup that preserves the rights and dignity of all individuals who will work to make the tournament a success.”

In 2014, the Qatari government promised to improve labor rights for migrants in the country.

But according to Amnesty, the past 12 months have seen few improvements for migrant workers who are employed under the country’s Kafala system – which marries an immigrant employee to the employer.

The United Nations and many human rights groups say this system has allowed a system of abuse and form of slavery to flourish, and want to see it abolished.

Like Qatar, FIFA said it welcomed Amnesty’s latest briefing.

“FIFA has repeatedly urged publicly and with the highest authorities in Qatar that fair working conditions for all workers in Qatar are imperative,” said the world governing body in a statement given to CNN.

“We have long encouraged and facilitated dialogue between stakeholders in Qatar and expert international organizations, and Amnesty’s work shows the benefits of engagement.

“Amnesty’s report acknowledges that there has been some progress and it also makes clear that much more still needs to be done.”

FIFA’s statement insisted its decision to award Qatar the 2022 event had brought about “real change” for migrants’ working conditions.

“While there are huge construction programs underway in Qatar that have no connection to the FIFA World Cup, it is clear that the FIFA World Cup is serving as a catalyst for significant change.

“The FIFA World Cup stadium sites, where none of the incidents mentioned in the report took place, are subject to international standards required of the construction companies responsible and their supply chains.”

However Amnesty says FIFA is not doing enough.

“FIFA has spent much time, money and political capital investigating alleged corruption in the Russia and Qatar World Cup bids, and agonizing over the scheduling of the tournament,” Qadri said.

“But the organization has yet to demonstrate any real commitment to ensuring Qatar 2022 is not built on a foundation of exploitation and abuse.”

FIFA did not respond directly to these allegations when contacted by CNN.

Migrant labourers work on a construction site on October 3, 2013 in Doha in Qatar. Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host is under fire over claims of using forced labour.
Campaigner: Qatar World Cup worker conditions, "appalling"
03:19 - Source: CNN

Meanwhile, the issue of migrant worker conditions in Qatar is raising concerns for one of FIFA’s sponsors.

“We continue to be troubled by the reports coming out of Qatar related to the World Cup and migrant worker conditions,” said a VISA statement on Tuesday.

“We have expressed our grave concern to FIFA and urge them to take all necessary actions to work with the appropriate authorities and organizations to remedy this situation and ensure the health and safety of all involved.”

Every other day, at least one dead body arrives in Nepal from Qatar, according to Bhola Prasad Siwakoti, the secretary of the Nepalese Ministry of Labor and Manpower.

“Nepali migrant workers have the lowest per capita income in Qatar,” Suryanath Mishra, who served as ambassador to Qatar from 2007 to 2012, told CNN in March. “They get exploited the most out of all the migrant workers.”

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has publicly stated that he would like to see Qatar make improvements to help those who have flocked to the region in pursuit of work.

Next week the 79-year-old Swiss administrator hopes to be reelected for a fifth term, having been in charge since 1998.

“FIFA, alongside trade unions and human rights organizations, will continue to urge the Qatari authorities to accomplish reforms and abolish the Kafala system,” added the FIFA statement.

“Ultimately, however, sustainable change in the whole country can only be reached in a collective effort with all stakeholders involved, including international companies and governments.”

The Amnesty report also says Qatar has yet to implement its most significant reform, that of an electronic wage system to change the way salaries are paid to migrant workers.

This is still being implemented while many workers have complained to Amnesty they have yet to receive wages.

“I just want to work and earn some money for my wife and children, but because of my sponsor I can’t change jobs,” said Ranjith, a Sri Lankan migrant worker interviewed by Amnesty International.

“If I go to the police they will arrest me and deport me because I do not have an ID.”

Ranjith has not been paid since he arrived in Qatar five months ago and has no ID and no contract. Amnesty described his accommodation in a workers camp as “cramped and filthy.”

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Plight of Nepali migrant workers in Qatar
03:35 - Source: CNN

According to Amnesty, Qatar has failed to meet its target of having 300 labor inspectors in place by the end of 2014 with the group claiming there has only been limited progress to improve safety on construction sites, regulation against exploitative recruitment agencies and improving access to justice for victims of labor exploitation.

Amnesty says that even if Qatar does implement all the reforms it announced in May 2014 they would still be insufficient to address “the root causes behind widespread exploitation of migrant workers.”

“The reality is that more than a year and half after Amnesty International highlighted rampant exploitation of migrants – little has been done to address the root causes of this abuse.

“We are one year closer to Qatar’s 2022 World Cup – time for changes to be implemented is running out,” Qadri said.

“With Qatar’s construction boom continuing and the migrant worker population set to expand to 2.5 million, the need for urgent reform is more pressing than ever.”

In November 2013, Amnesty published a report which alleged that workers were forced to endure excessive working hours, squalid living conditions and refused payment.

The report, “The Dark Side of Migration,” was based on interviews with 210 workers, 22 companies and government officials.

Amnesty recommended that Qatar take action in reforming the Kafala system and removing the need for an exit permit, while it also advocated an improvement to living standards and labor laws.

But progress has been slow, according to Amnesty’s latest report – entitled “Promising little, delivering less: Qatar and migrant labor abuse ahead of the 2022 Football World Cup” – which states that of the nine key areas in improving the lives of migrant workers, there has been only limited progress in five and no success in the other four.

But workers’ welfare is extremely complex, according to Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.

In a written statement, the committee said: “Further progress and sustainable, lasting change requires continued cooperation among stakeholders from across government, the private sector, sending countries and civil society organizations, like Amnesty International.

“The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) welcomes the contribution of the Amnesty International report and is pleased to see that it acknowledges the SC Workers’ Welfare Standards as well as the SC’s commitment to transparency and continued cooperation with Amnesty International in regard to the SC’s implementation and enforcement of the standards.”

Read: Blatter says Qatar conditions unacceptable

Read: FIFA sets 2022 World Cup final date

Read: Amnesty slams Qatar over migrant workers