Amnesty report alleges exploitation of construction workers in Qatar ahead of 2022 World Cup

11/17/2013 04:50 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST
LONDON - An international human rights group has cataloged alleged human rights abuses in Qatar in connection to construction projects for the 2022 World Cup, and called on FIFA to ensure the exploitation of migrant workers ends.

In a report published Sunday, Amnesty International warned that migrant workers in the tiny Gulf nation are exposed to dangerous working conditions, poor standards of accommodation and the non-payment of wages.

"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," Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said in a statement.

Amnesty's study comes a week after FIFA President Sepp Blatter visited the emir of Qatar to share FIFA's concern about working conditions after newspaper investigations highlighted alleged human rights abuses and deaths in the extreme heat.

There have been long-standing concerns about the lack of safeguards for the mainly South Asian migrant labourers in Qatar and across the Gulf, including low-grade housing and employers withholding the worker passports.

"Our findings indicate an alarming level of exploitation in the construction sector in Qatar," Shetty said. "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."

FIFA wrote to Amnesty to express hopes that by taking the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time it can be the catalyst for social change, including an "improvement of labour rights and conditions for migrant workers."

Up to $220 billion is expected to be spent to expand the infrastructure in Qatar before it stages football's showpiece event, Amnesty said, although specific World Cup projects may only account for $4 billion of that.

Amnesty did say that the labour rights adopted by World Cup organizers themselves could "potentially serve as a positive model for other developers in Qatar," but expressed fears that other projects — such as major infrastructure work like building roads and railways — won't adopt those standards.

"Construction companies and the Qatari authorities alike are failing migrant workers," Shetty said. "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."

Describing the current laws for migrant workers are inadequate, Amnesty said its researchers saw 11 men having to sign papers in front of government officials falsely saying they had received their wages so their passports would be returned.

Based on a series of interviews, the organization also described some workers' living conditions as "squalid," with no air conditioning and overcrowded accommodation.

The report also alleges some companies are flouting regulations banning work in open areas in the middle of the day in the searing summer months. It says workers for a company delivering supplies to a project linked to the planned FIFA headquarters during the tournament were subjected to "serious labour abuses."

"The workers said that during the summer months they continued to be required to work 12-hour shifts on the supplier's site, including in areas exposed to the sun," the report said.

Qatar is not alone in the Gulf in facing criticism from rights groups and others about the treatment of migrant workers.

Countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia also have come under pressure to improve living conditions in so-called labour camps — mostly dormitory complexes with rooms filled with bunk beds — and end practices such as employers holding workers' passports.

Earlier this year, hundreds of workers in Dubai were forced to leave after a brief strike over pay issues. Riots broke out in Saudi Arabia last week amid a crackdown by authorities on undocumented workers.

On Sunday, New York-based Human Rights Watch also urged Gulf Arab states to take additional steps to safeguard domestic workers who are often outside normal labour laws and protections. It appealed for Gulf states to adopt new codes by the International Labor Organization that include limiting work hours for domestic staff and ending the practice of holding passports.


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