DOHA: Amnesty International Monday criticised “alarming” exploitation of construction workers in Qatar, urging it to seize the opportunity of hosting the 2022 World Cup to demonstrate its commitment to human rights.
In a 169-page report, Amnesty said migrant workers were being treated like “animals” — a word the watchdog said its researchers had heard one construction firm manager use to describe them.
The report also urged world football governing body FIFA to press the Gulf state to improve the conditions of foreign labourers, most of whom are from South or Southeast Asia.
Doha, which rejects claims of slavery-style conditions on its construction sites in the world’s wealthiest nation per capita, said it would include the report’s findings in an inquiry it has already launched.
Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty said the findings indicated “an alarming level of exploitation” in Qatar’s construction sector, and called the abuses “widespread” and “not isolated”.
“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.”After meeting Qatar’s emir and prime minister on November 9 in Doha, FIFA chief Sepp Blatter said the issue of working conditions was being addressed.
Shetty told reporters Amnesty had met officials who were “very willing to recognise that there is a problem and… strongly oriented to find solutions”.
After embarking on a multi-billion-dollar plan to host the 2022 World Cup, Qatar has come under the spotlight as migrant workers pour into the tiny gas-rich nation.
Shetty said this attention offers Doha “a unique chance to demonstrate on a global stage that they are serious about their commitment to human rights and can act as a role model to the rest of the region”.
The plight of migrant workers remains an issue across the oil-rich Gulf.
Amnesty’s report — “The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup” — documented several abuses.
These include “non-payment of wages, harsh and dangerous working conditions, and shocking standards of accommodation”.
The London-based watchdog said “dozens” of them have been trapped inside Qatar, which demands foreigners obtain an exit permit to leave.
‘Blackmailed by employers’
In response, Qatar’s government said it would ensure the report was included in an inquiry it has already launched into the alleged abuses.
The authorities had “asked international law firm DLA Piper to include the Amnesty report… in the independent review it is carrying out concerning the conditions of foreign labour,” said a foreign ministry source quoted by the official QNA news agency.
“The state of Qatar gives huge importance to the protection and upholding of human rights by enacting the relevant laws and establishing the bodies tasked with protecting and reinforcing those rights,” the source added. In the report, Amnesty said “the onus is on the government of Qatar to make the necessary changes to its legislation and to enforce worker protections”.
Amnesty said abuses were systematic under a sponsorship system that “affords unscrupulous employers powers to exploit their employees, not least of which is the ability to prevent workers leaving the country”.
“The Labour Law, which should offer workers a measure of protection, is ineffectively enforced, and has serious flaws in its own right.”Shetty said his team in Doha on Friday met “a group of 70 workers” from Nepal, Sri Lanka and other nationalities who said they “have not been paid for nine to 10 months”.
“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,” he said.
Many workers have also reported poor health and safety standards, said Amnesty.
It cited an unnamed Doha hospital representative as saying that “more than 1,000 people were admitted to the trauma unit in 2012 (after) having fallen from height at work”.
Some 10 per cent became disabled and “the mortality rate was ‘significant’.”A September report in Britain’s Guardian newspaper said 44 Nepalis have died working in Qatar this year. Amnesty did not confirm the figure. Some abused labourers worked for subcontractors employed by global firms, Amnesty alleged.
It reported one case in which workers 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.”They had to work up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, it said.
“Unless critical, far-reaching steps are taken immediately, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who will be recruited in the coming years to deliver Qatar’s vision face a high risk of being abused,” Shetty warned.
Qatar has the highest ratio of migrants to citizens in the world, with about 88 per cent of the total