Interpreting Middle East Economic News and Analyzing Market Trends

Amnesty exposes Qatar’s slave labor practices, Qatar hires law firm to investigate itself, other GCC countries continue with similar practices

qatar-laborers

All of Qatar’s construction workers are from poor neighboring countries such as India and Bangladesh

 

Last week Amnesty International exposed Qatar’s inhumane labor practices some describe as modern-day slavery.  In its investigation, Amnesty interviewed laborers, companies and government officials.  This story made worldwide headlines as Qatar has taken center stage recently as it prepares for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.  Amnesty should have gone further and expand its investigation beyond Qatar.  These poor labor practices are not unique to Qatar, all neighboring GCC* countries are guilty of these same practices.

 

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Laborers on a construction site in Doha, Qatar

 

(CNN) — As Qatar goes on a construction blitz ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, much of the new infrastructure will be built by migrant workers. And given Qatar’s track record, that’s cause for major concern, a human rights group says.

A new report from Amnesty International finds that worker abuse is rife in Qatar’s construction sector. The report, called “The Dark Side of Migration,” says some workers endure excessive and often dangerous working hours, squalid living conditions and have their payments withheld. One manager referred to workers as “cattle.”

 

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Laborers line up to go back to camp

The report is based on interviews with 210 workers, 22 companies and government officials. It includes investigations into companies subcontracted by major organizations, including the government’s Qatar Foundation and South Korean group Hyundai Engineering & Construction.

Amnesty said its researchers witnessed 11 men signing papers before government officials, falsely claiming they had received all payments and benefits to allow them to leave the country.

“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.

The report also questions the safety standards on construction sites, citing a report from Doha’s main hospital that says more than 1,000 people were admitted to the trauma unit last year after falling from heights. Ten percent were disabled as a result, according to that report.

Qatar’s Ministry of Labor has not responded to CNN’s request for comment.

 

Qatar gated labour camp

A typical labor camp looks like a lovely gated community

 

Most workers are migrants

Qatar has the highest ratio of migrants to citizens in the world, according to U.N. Special Rapporteur Francois Crepeau. About 94% of workers in Qatar are migrants, the United Nations’ International Labour Organization said.

The Amnesty report follows a visit to Doha by Crepeau in November to review worker standards. His preliminary findings called for abolishing the kefala system, which ties workers to a single employer. Under kefala, workers cannot change jobs without permission from employers.

Crepeau also called for a minimum wage for all workers.

 

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Here’s where they sleep

 

Qatar responds to accusations

In response to Amnesty’s allegations, the director of the Human Rights Department at Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said laws are in place to protect workers from mistreatment. “In the event that the Ministry of Labor becomes aware that the employer has not adhered to the contract … then it will take all legal means and measures against the employer,” the agency wrote to Amnesty.

But Amnesty and other human rights groups have cited lack of enforcement as a key problem.

Qatar Labour Camp 3

Here’s where they cook

This isn’t the first time Qatar’s working conditions for migrants have come under fire. After a report in the UK’s Guardian newspaper that likened such conditions to “modern-day slavery,” Qatar’s Ministry of Labor issued a number of reforms in October. Those changes included doubling the number of labor site inspectors, increasing the number or labor branch offices and increasing the number of translators to ease communication with workers.

Amnesty said it recommends improving living standards, revising Qatar’s labor laws, reforming the sponsorship system and removing the “exit permit,” permission from a sponsor to leave the country.

Qatar’s Ministry of Labor will set up a website for those seeking jobs in Qatar to “ensure that there will no longer be any discrepancy between the job the worker has signed up for in his country from that signed in Qatar,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Read the full story from CNN.

 

The Qatari government has vowed to do something about this to improve their image in the international community:

The Qatari government, which has engaged the law firm DLA Piper to conduct an independent review of abuses in the construction sector, said the resolution was “premature”.

“Qatar takes the allegations that have been made concerning the construction sector extremely seriously and has therefore already put an independent review into those allegations in place, to be conducted as a matter of the utmost urgency,” the Qatar foreign ministry said.

Read the full story from The Guardian.

 

Amnesty has done an excellent job of investigating and reporting these abuses in Qatar.  Now it’s time to broaden this beyond Qatar and expose abuses in neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE.  Local and international media sites have reported many of this abuses over the years.  A simple Google search will yield dozens of stories across the region.

GCC countries, however, are not the only ones to blame for keeping slave labor practices alive.  The poor countries are more than happy to supply laborers even though they know abuses take place.  Many of these countries are dependent on foreign remittances of these workers and turn a blind eye to much of what is going on. In recent years some governments, such as the Philippines, have tried to take steps to improve their citizens’ working conditions abroad.

Though Qatar and GCC countries bear much of the blame for these poor labor practices, laborers’ home countries need to take some responsibility for letting these abuses continue.

* Gulf Cooperation Council Countries (GCC) include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.