Human Rights in Qatar
In this article, we shall discuss the issue of human rights in Qatar, and the international relations implications of human rights conditions in the country. We will primarily focus on Qatar human rights pertaining to the construction of stadiums and other infrastructure related to the Qatar 2022 World Cup. We will examine the various human rights violations surrounding migrant workers in Qatar, discussing work conditions and also living conditions for migrants working in the country under the Kafala System. We will also discuss the Qatari migrant worker deaths, and what the government has done (or not done) to guarantee human rights. Then, we will conclude with what human rights organization have recommended should be done to ensure that human rights are met in Qatar. This will include a discussion not only on what the Qatari government and companies should be doing, but also, what obligations FIFA has to ensure that human rights in Qatar are protected.
Qatar, Human Rights, and the 2022 World Cup
Qatar, an oil rich country in the Middle East was chosen by FIFA to host the 2022 World Cup. They were awarded the games on December 2nd, 2010 (Fox Sports, 2013) (to large controversy, especially in light of reports that corruption may have led to votes being bought (Fox Sports, 2013)).
Since chosen to host the world’s largest soccer tournament, Qatar has begun the preparations for playing host for the games. Under the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (the entity overseeing the World Cup games), the government of Qatar has been working on preparations for the 2022 World Cup games (Amnesty International, 2016b). They have set out to build multiple new high-tech stadiums, as well as a series of other construction projects. They are said to spend anywhere from 100 billion dollars to 200 billion dollars on World Cup preparations. However, attention has been brought onto Qatar not merely in anticipation of the World Cup, but rather, the horrible Qatar living conditions for migrants, as well as Qatar workers’ rights, or the lack of human rights. The Qatari preparations for the World Cup have been over shaded by the human rights in Qatar; migrant workers are facing horrible conditions as they work to ensure that Qatar will be ready to hold the games.
In theory, the Qatari government has labor laws in place that are supposed to protect people’s work rights. For example, according to Law 14 (2004), foreign workers are not to have excessive hours, they are entitled to paid leave, and are entitled to getting paid on time (Human Rights Watch, 2015). Furthermore, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy has outlined a series of human rights for migrant workers in Qatar. Among these rights include the prohibition against any fees collected from migrant workers who want to work in Qatar. Furthermore, companies are not to lie to workers about their jobs, their pay, or work or living conditions. Moreover, workers are to be paid their agreed upon wages on time, and must also be given adequate living accommodations. However, as we shall see, there have been many reports of human rights abuses in Qatar, in which companies have violating many of these rights standards. Migrant workers in Qatar have been working under very difficult conditions, in many instances have been lied to about the job, have had to take debt to work in Qatar, have not been paid their agreed wages, or have not been paid at all. In addition, the migrant workers in Qatar have also been unable to leave their jobs without fear of retribution.
Migrant Workers in Qatar
Qatar, looking for labor to build the soccer stadiums, has been accepting migrant workers from countries like Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh (over ninety percent of the migrant workers in Qatar are from South Asian countries) (Amnesty International, 2016b). It has been said that in addition to over a million workers in the country in 2013, that the government would need an addition 1.2 million workers to continue construction until 2018 alone (Stork & McGeehan, 2013), let alone any more workers for the final completion of the 2022 World Cup stadiums. Yet despite promises of well-paid work, migrant workers in Qatar face horrible conditions, beginning from the early stages of the recruitment process, to labor conditions, and living conditions.
Migrant workers heading to Qatar are often the subject of abuse from the beginning of their quest to work in the country. As Amnesty International (2016) notes in their report “Qatar: World Cup of Shame,” “Many migrants seek work in Qatar to escape poverty and unemployment in countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and India. But to get a job they have to pay high fees. The workers we spoke to paid amounts ranging from US$500 to US$4,300 to unscrupulous recruitment agents in their home country. Many are in debt, which makes them scared to leave their jobs when they get to Qatar.” So, these expensive loans put them in a form of indentured servitude, since it can take them possibly many years to pay back the loans that they first took out for the opportunity to work in Qatar (UN, 2014).
On top of the debt that migrant workers from Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and other countries take for the opportunity to work in Qatar, these workers are often lied to regarding not only the human rights in Qatar, but they are lied to about how much money they are going to make building stadiums and other construction work. There have been many instances of workers being told they would make a certain number while still in their home country, and then, after getting to Qatar, were told very different (and much lower monthly wage) figures (Amnesty International, 2016).
Or, in other cases, the migrant workers were offered a contract in their own countries, and then, upon reaching Qatar, were provided a completely different contract; this contract not only stipulated less money than the initial contract, but it also outlined different work responsibilities (UN, 2014). Furthermore, in other instances, workers completely stop paying workers, with little to no consequence. The workers, unable to do much else, continue to work in hopes that they will eventually be paid.
The Kafala System
With regards to human rights in Qatar, the problem for the Qatari migrant workers is that they have little to no rights once they reach the country. The reason for this has a lot to do with the “sponsorship program,” or what is referred to as the Kafala (Sponsorship) system. The Kafala system is the structure in place that helps regulate work agreements between recruiters and migrant workers in Qater. However, instead of the Kafala system being a fair law to protect migrant workers’ human rights in Qatar, the system is actually used by work sponsors to control migrant workers. For example, “Sponsors are empowered by the Sponsorship Law to prevent migrants from changing employers and from leaving Qatar. The kafala system enables unscrupulous employers to exploit employees. Frequent cases of abuse against migrants include the confiscation of passports, refusal to give “no objection” certificates (allowing migrants to change employer) or exit permits and refusal to pay migrants’ plane tickets to return home. Some employers do not extend residence permits for their employees, often because of the fees incurred. This leads to migrants ending up in an irregular situation, with no valid identity card, despite the fact that they are regularly employed” (UN, 2014).
Furthermore, under the Kafala system in Qatar, work sponsors must give their approval for a migrant worker to leave. If a worker does not follow this agreement, the company can notify the Ministry of Interior that a worker did not oblige to their contractual agreement. Thus, “Migrants who leave their employers without a “no objection” certificate are charged with absconding and labelled runaways. They lose their residence permit and risk fines, imprisonment and deportation. The Special Rapporteur believes this system can amount to forced labour” (UN, 2014). In order to prevent migrant workers in Qatar from leaving their jobs, employers have often been known to take the passports of the workers, essentially binding them to work only for them. Thus, the migrants in Qatar have few rights; not only are they lied to about their work, but they are bound to one employer, who in turn can treat these individuals horribly, without human rights, and the Kafala system in place does little to punish these companies.
A story collected first by Amnesty International (2016b) illustrates just how employers an refuse the requests of a worker looking to leave their jobs:
“It took just two months for Kamal to realize that working as a scaffolder at the Khalifa Stadium, a host site for the 2022 FIFA World Cup of men’s soccer, beneath Qatar’s broiling sun was not exactly the job he had hoped for. Kamal, 21, told his employer that he and a friend, Chetan, 19, were ready to quit and return home to Nepal…
Their boss rejected the request, so Kamal approached a manager during his lunch break the next day with the same request. Kamal, rejected by the manager, was instructed to visit the management office if he wished to continue his push to quit, but there too, he was offered a similar response — this time with a threat attached.
“In the office the manager listened quietly for a moment and then signaled us to stop talking with his hand,” Kamal said, adding that two other men then entered. “He said, ‘These men are causing trouble, they are lazy, they do not want to work. Watch them closely. If they do not show up to work or try to escape, make sure to report them to the police'” (Kaplan, 2016).
Qatar Living Conditions for Migrants
Migrant living conditions have been another point of contention that activists have raised with regards to human rights in Qatar. While the government claims that migrant workers in Qatar are living in some of the most pristine housing available, reports and interviews with migrant workers tells a different story. These migrant workers report living in dirty housing, many to a room,
As the Special Rapporteur François Crépeau in a 2014 report following an investigation into migrant worker rights in Qatar noted, “Living conditions in labour camps are often inadequate and in violation of Qatari law, such as the prohibition against bunk beds. The Special Rapporteur observed how a large number of migrants live in overcrowded and insalubrious conditions in the Doha industrial area. Many migrants do not have an identity card, because their employer did not provide them with one or did not extend its validity. As a consequence, they cannot obtain health cards to access subsidized health care. The Special Rapporteurs regrets the insufficient number of labour inspectors, who are not in a position to investigate thoroughly the working conditions or living conditions in labour camps, due to their small numbers and the lack of interpreters” (11).
The ILO and Human Rights in Qatar
Given the mass human rights abuses in Qatar, in March of 2016, the United Nations International Labour Organization issued a warning to the country (Booth, 2016) regarding migrant rights in Qatar. In the ILO complaint, the organization noted that “From the moment migrant workers begin the process of seeking work in Qatar, they are drawn into a highly exploitative system that facilitates the exaction of forced labour by their employers. This includes practices such as contract substitution, recruitment fees (for which many take out large, high interest loans) and passport confiscation. The Government of Qatar fails to maintain a legal framework sufficient to protect the rights of migrant workers consistent with international law and to enforce the legal protections that currently do exist. Of particular concern, the sponsorship law, among the most restrictive in the Gulf region, facilitates the exaction of forced labour by, among other things, making it very difficult for a migrant worker to leave an abusive employer.”
They stated that if conditions in the country do not change (conditions in which they themselves found after a visit to Qatar), that they could open up an official “commission of inquiry” (Booth, 2016). The government has admitted that there are labor issues, but that they are working on addressing these abuses (Booth, 2016).
Human Rights in Qatar: Conclusion
Human rights abuses in Qatar continue to be an ongoing problem. In many cases, the government has either denied that abuses were taking place, or has called for remedying any violation. Amnesty International has argued that the Supreme Committee has shown it is committed to protecting human rights of migrant workers in Qatar. They have set up worker standards.
However, one of the biggest challenges to ensuring human rights protections for migrant workers in Qatar has to do with the continued Kafala system. The Qatari government has called for new legislation in efforts to address some of the problems from the Kafala. In 2014, the government did call to end the Kafala system, although the action follow through has not come. In fact, the Shura Council in Qatar mentioned that there was “no need to hurry” to abolish Kafala (Bollier, 2016).
In addition to calls to rid of the Kafala system completely, “In October 2015 the Emir of Qatar approved Law No. 21 of 2015 which will replace the 2009 Sponsorship Law. It will come into effect from December 2016. The new law creates a system for migrant workers to appeal a sponsor’s decision to refuse them an exit permit to leave the country. It also increases the state’s oversight of the process by which workers seek to change jobs or leave Qatar. However, migrant workers were still required to obtain their sponsor’s approval to change jobs or leave the country. The situation of migrant workers is made more precarious by the authorities’ persistent failure to enforce the laws that do exist to protect workers’ rights” (Amnesty International, 2016b: 9).
Furthermore, while the Standards in place are of course a welcomed action, part of the problem is that the Supreme Committee tends to examine potential human rights abuses by larger companies, and thus, less attention is given towards smaller companies or sub-contractors. In fact, “Some of the most egregious abuses that Amnesty International documented on Khalifa Stadium were perpetrated by labour supply companies that the Supreme Committee did not even know were involved with the project” (Amnesty International, 2016b). There are also questions about the roll of lobbyists working to ensure that that existing Kefala sponsorship system in Qatar survived (Bollier, 2016).
So, unless there is real and serious reform of the entire Kalafa system, and much better oversight of all companies as it relates to human rights in Qatar, it seems that the human rights abuses against migrant workers in Qatar will continue to take place, without serious state punishments against companies violating these rights. It is for this reason that so many have advocated for the end of the Kafala system in Qatar.
There has been some improvement on remedying the Kafala system in Qatar. For example, approved in October of 2016, a new Kafala system stipulation allows migrant workers to appeal to the government when they want to leave the country. This is a major change from the previous system, which had workers applying to their sponsors for an exit visa (Kovessy, 2016). This new change is important since it takes some of the power away from the sponsor, who we know has abused their power by not granting exit visas for migrant workers. However, human rights organizations point out that freedom of movement is still not guaranteed, that while it does indeed reduce some of the power of sponsors, that migrant workers still need to seek permission before they are to leave Qatar (Kovessy, 2016).
Along with changes at the national level, it is also imperative that FIFA also ensure that they are active in protecting human rights in Qatar, and that human rights conditions became a permanent fixture whenever they consider sporting activities in a country. Yet, time and time again, FIFA continued to fail in doing anything tangible with regards to the rights of migrant workers in Qatar (Amnesty International, 2016b). So, given the mounting pressure on FIFA, in December of 2015, they called upon Dr. John Ruggie to recommend steps that FIFA should take on matters of human rights. Ruggie wrote a report entitled For the Game, For the World: FIFA and Human Rights in which, among other things (a total of 25 recommendations are noted in the report), called for FIFA to be specific in human rights expectations, internal structures to deal with any human rights risks, and also more transparency. So, for Ruggie, it is more than just speaking the right things about human rights; FIFA must live up to words and carry though sound action (Gibson, 2016).
Overall, there should be better protections for migrant workers, from well before they even enter into Qatar. So, whether it is Nepali migrant workers, migrant workers from India, Sri Lankan migrant workers, or elsewhere, it is imperative that these workers are given accurate information in their host countries, and that local and national government officials, with Qatari representatives, are working to ensure that these human rights are protected. In addition, there needs to be a better monitoring system of not only human rights abuses, but overall corporate behavior. Plus, any violations must be able to be reported without retribution of the migrant workers in Qatar. It is imperative that companies in Qatar are not able to get away with these bad behavior. Thus, there should be punishments to their ability to operate in Qatar if they are found to commit human rights abuses against migrant workers.
Human Rights in Qatar References
Amnesty International (2016). Qatar: World Cup of Shame. Available Online: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/03/qatar-world-cup-of-shame/
Amnesty International (2016b). The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game: Exploitation of Migrant Worker on A Qatar 2022 World Cup Site. Amnesty International. 30 March 2016. Available Online: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde22/3548/2016/en/
Bollier, S. (2016). What’s Holding Up Labor Reforms in Qatar? Journal of Middle Eastern Politics and Policy, May 21, 2016. Available Online: http://hksjmepp.com/qatar-labor-reform/
Booth, R. (2016). UN gives Qatar a year to end forced labour of migrant workers. The Guardian. 24 March 2016. Available Online: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/24/un-gives-qatar-year-end-forced-labour-migrant-workers
Gibson, O. (2016). Fifa faces ‘tough decision’ over Qatar World Cup if human rights abuses continue. The Guardian. 14 April 2016. Available Online: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/apr/14/fifa-qatar-world-cup-report-human-rights
Human Rights Watch (2015). World Report 2015: Qatar. Events of 2014. Human Rights Watch. Available Online: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/qatar
International Labour Organization (ILO) (2016). Complaint concerning non-observance by Qatar of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), and the Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81), made by delegates to the 103rd Session (2014) of the International Labour Conference under article 26 of the ILO Constitution. GB. 325/INS/8. 10-24 March 2016. Available Online: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_459148.pdf
Kaplan, M. (2016). Qatar World Cup 2022 Human Rights Abuses: Labor Exploitation Of Foreign Workers Alleged By Amnesty International. International Business Times. March 30, 2016. Available Online: http://www.ibtimes.com/qatar-world-cup-2022-human-rights-abuses-labor-exploitation-foreign-workers-alleged-2345718
Kovessy, P. (2016). Kafala reforms in Qatar still expected to take effect in December. Doha News. May 22, 2016. Available Online: http://dohanews.co/kafala-reforms-in-qatar-still-expected-to-take-effect-in-december/
Fox Sports (2013). A Timeline of the farce hat has 2022 Qatar World Cup and summer-wintre debate. Fox Sports. September 13, 2013. Available Online: http://www.foxsports.com.au/football/a-timeline-of-the-farce-that-has-been-the-awarding-and-changing-of-date-of-2022-qatar-world-cup/story-e6frf423-1226717830805
Ruggie, J. (2016). For the Game, For the World: FIFA & Human Rights. Available Online: Shift & Harvard Kennedy School Corporate Responsibility Initiative, pages 1-41. Available Online: https://www.hks.harvard.edu/centers/mrcbg/programs/cri/research/reports/report68
Stork, J. & McGeehan, N. (2013). Qatar’s human rights record. Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre. Policy Brief. August 2013. Available Online: http://noref.no/var/ezflow_site/storage/original/application/83b15210143fd91e148fc979ee646b6e.pdf
United Nations (2014). United Nations Human Rights Council. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau. Addendum, Mission to Qatar. A/HRC/26/35/Add.1, 23 April 2014.
Keywords: Human Rights in Qatar; Kafala System; Qatar Living Conditions; Qatar World Cup Deaths; Migrant Workers in Qatar; Nepali workers in Qatar