Human Rights and Worker Welfare in Qatar – What is the World Cup’s legacy?
In 2010 FIFA took the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The competition is now in full swing, and there is as much discussion about what is happening off the pitch as on the pitch. But while football will be played over 6 weeks, the impact of this decision has already been felt for 12 years, and will be felt for many more to come. There have been serious negative impacts, not least the tragic deaths of workers, but also poor working and living conditions. But shining the spotlight on the tiny state has also driven a commitment to change. Whether this commitment can be fulfilled remains to be seen.
The State of Qatar has a total population of around 2.6 million people. Only about 15- 20% of the population are Qatari nationals, they make up a small minority in their own country. In the private sector, the vast majority of workers are male migrant workers, primarily from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. 65-70% of the population is male. This unnatural population imbalance is a problem.
The traditional system of Kafala, which operates across all the Gulf States, requires any migrant worker (whether a senior executive of a multi-national or manual labourer) to be sponsored by Qatari national or Qatari company. The sponsor holds considerable power over the individual and their ability to access basic rights. The Kafala system has long been recognised internationally as a barrier to migrant rights. Since 2018 the International Labour Office (ILO) has been working with the State of Qatar to overhaul the system. Qatar has taken the following steps:
Many organisations have been working for over a decade to improve the situation. For example, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the organising body for the World Cup, has made significant progress in improving worker welfare. They have been audited by human rights advisers Impactt for six years. The global construction firm Vinci, which has been involved in numerous road, rail and infrastructure projects in Qatar, has partnered with international NGOs, auditors and advisers to raise their standards of worker welfare in Qatar.
These are welcome and necessary interventions, but there is much more to do, particularly in implementation. Many workers still face significant delays to salary payment, many are in dispute with their employers, workers are still trapped in debt bondage from paying high recruitment fees, and young, apparently healthy men are still dying. Despite reforms to the kafala system, the fundamental inequality between employer and migrant leaves the worker vulnerable to exploitation.
As the media and international attention moves on from the world cup at the end of December, will the new laws and plans be fully implemented without the watchful eye of international scrutiny? Will the SC and others leading the way continue to build capacity among their suppliers and partners across the country? The opportunity must not be lost to continue the work that has been started and to lead the region in promoting better conditions for migrant workers. International businesses and investors in Qatar and the wider region should continue to work with the government to drive implementation, build capacity and share good practices.
Hope Sherwin - Principal Consultant, Earth Active