Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Kafala Caste System

In a highly critical report to be presented to the UN human rights council UN’s special rapporteur for racism, Tendayi Achiume, says a “de facto caste system based on national origin” exists in Qatar, “according to which European, North American, Australian and Arab nationalities systematically enjoy greater human rights protections than South Asian and sub-Saharan African nationalities”.

Around 2 million migrant workers are employed in Qatar; the vast majority low-wage labourers from south Asia and east and west Africa. Roughly 18,500 are currently building World Cup stadiums, but tens of thousands more are employed on projects linked to the World Cup, including in construction, hospitality and security.

The report reveals that low-wage workers continue to suffer severe discrimination and exploitation, almost 10 years after Fifa awarded the World Cup to Qatar. Non-payment of wages, unsafe working conditions, racial profiling by the police and denial of access to some public spaces are among the catalogue of abuses described in the report.
Workers who flee abusive employers are commonly referred to as”‘absconding”. Such a term, “points to the indentured or coercive labour conditions that are the reality for too many low-income workers in Qatar”, the special rapporteur says.
The Qatar government cancelled a visit by the UN special rapporteur on slavery, scheduled for January, soon after the preliminary findings of the report were published.
A central criticism is the continued existence of the kafala, or sponsorship, system, under which workers are unable to change jobs without their employer’s permission. As a result of this, “immense power imbalances persist between employers and migrant workers”, so that “many low-income workers are too afraid to seek justice for labour violations”, the report says. The Qatari authorities and the UN’s International Labour Organization announced plans to abolish the kafala system and introduce a non-discriminatory minimum wage in October, but neither have yet been implemented. The special rapporteur praised the proposed reforms but, “regrets the delay in their implementation”.

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