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Amnesty International report yet another reminder that Qatar can be horrible, horrible place

Nov 17, 2013, 5:14 PM EDT

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Spoiler alert: Qatar is a horrible place. For soccer fans who’ve caught up after FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to the Middle Eastern nation three years ago, that may not be news. For others, Amnesty International latest report will hopefully open eyes.

The organization released a 153-page report on what amounts to human rights violations in Qatar; or, as they put it, “complex contractual chains and reveals widespread and routine abuse of migrant workers – in some cases amounting to forced labour.”

It’s an investigation that verifies everything we knew about Qatar before the nation was awarded the 2022 World Cup. The country, with an estimated per-capita gross domestic product of just over $100,000, will depend on an imported and underprivileged worker class to make real the array of revolutionary stadia and venues which convinced the FIFA assembly to take the World Cup to the Arabian Peninsula.

Amnesty’s bullet point description of that class:

  • There are some 1.35 million foreign nationals working in Qatar.
  • Migrant workers now make up some 94 per cent of the total workforce in the country.
  • 90% had their passports held by their employers
  • 56% did not have a government health card, essential to access public hospitals
  • 21% “sometimes, rarely or never” received their salary on time
  • 20% got a different salary than had been promised
  • 15% worked in a different job to the one promised
source:

This image, as produced by Amnesty International, highlights the most frequently utilized migration streams to Qatar.

The big one is number three. No passport, no running home, which would be the logical response when you show up for a job that turns out to be a technicality short of old school slavery. But as so many people turn to Qatar for money to send back to India, Pakistan, and points throughout Southeast Asia, they become indentured servants, forced to see out their time amid the violations.

Amnesty’s Secretary General Salil Shetty:

“It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world, that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive …”

“Employers in Qatar have displayed an appalling disregard for the basic human rights of migrant workers. Many are taking advantage of a permissive environment and lax enforcement of labour protections to exploit construction workers.”

“[Companies] should be proactive and not just take action when abuses are drawn to their attention. Turning a blind eye to any form of exploitation is unforgivable, particularly when it is destroying people’s lives and livelihoods.”

Unfortunately, this is not exactly news. All of these conditions existed before the soccer world decided to care about Qatar. Yet with FIFA having willingly stepped into this mess, Amnesty has an opportunity to highlight abuse previously ignored. Hundred of millions (perhaps billions) or soccer fans can be made aware of not only the exploitive practices but how the abuses are set to help promote the game.

One example:

The findings give rise to fears that during the construction of high-profile projects in Qatar, including those which may be of integral importance to the staging of the 2022 World Cup, workers may be subjected to exploitation.

In one case, the employees of a company delivering critical supplies to a construction project associated with the planned FIFA headquarters during the 2022 World Cup, were subjected to serious labour abuses.

Nepalese workers employed by the supplier said they were “treated like cattle”. Employees were working up to 12 hour days and seven day weeks, including during Qatar’s searingly hot summer months …

“Please tell me – is there any way to get out of here? … We are going totally mad,” one Nepalese construction worker, unpaid for seven months and prevented from leaving Qatar for three months, told Amnesty International.

For groups like Amnesty, FIFA’s choice of Qatar is both unfortunate and an opportunity. It presents an avenue through which they can increase awareness. It also presents the organization with another pressure point. If Qatar won’t listen, perhaps FIFA (or maybe, their sponsors) will.

Amnesty International is calling on FIFA to work with the Qatari authorities and World Cup organizers as a matter of priority to prevent abuses.

“Our findings indicate an alarming level of exploitation in the construction sector in Qatar. FIFA has a duty to send a strong public message that it will not tolerate human rights abuses on construction projects related to the World Cup,” said Salil Shetty.

“Qatar is recruiting migrant workers at a remarkable rate to support its construction boom, with the population increasing at 20 people an hour. Many migrants arrive in Qatar full of hopes, only to have these crushed soon after they arrive. There’s no time to delay – the government must act now to end this abuse.”

As Amnesty’s report shows, there isn’t much time to effect a solution, even through we’re still eight-plus years away from the World Cup. Construction’s beginning soon, and with the economics of the world’s poorer nations making it unlikely people will stop seeking solutions in Qatar, this problem isn’t going to solve itself.

While it would be nice if people started to recognize global poverty foments these exploitive practices, a more realistic course of action would target Qatar, FIFA, and sponsors. Reports like Amnesty International’s would hopefully raise a broader awareness of these issues, so travelers, supporters, or businesses looking to get behind the 2022 event might think twice before implicitly condoning Qatar’s human rights abuses.

If attitudes change enough, a serious discussion of boycotting the 2022 event could be possible. Right now, any such suggestion is considered extreme, but in the face of what Amnesty International has detailed, anytime of blind eye participation in 2022 seems too much.

Amnesty’s news bulletin can be found here. Their entire report on Qatar, based on a three-year investigation and 210 worker interviews, can be found here.

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