“My life here is like a prison. The work is difficult, we worked for many hours in the hot sun. When I first complained about my situation, soon after arriving in Qatar, the manager said, ‘If you want to complain you can, but there will be consequences. If you want to stay in Qatar, be quiet and keep working.’ Now I am forced to stay in Qatar and continue working.”
In May last year, Amnesty International accused the Qatari government of “promising little, delivering less” and has said the promised reforms to the kafala system do not go far enough. In a new report, it concludes: “The government’s response raises serious questions about Qatar’s willingness to protect the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers living in the country. If abuse on a flagship World Cup project does not merit investigation and action, it is unlikely abuses that do not attract the international spotlight will be dealt with in an effective manner.”
“The abuse of migrant workers is a stain on the conscience of world football. For players and fans, a World Cup stadium is a place of dreams. For some of the workers who spoke to us, it can feel like a living nightmare,” said Amnesty International’s director general, Salil Shetty. “Indebted, living in squalid camps in the desert, paid a pittance, the lot of migrant workers contrasts sharply to that of the top-flight footballers who will play in the stadium. All workers want are their rights: to be paid on time, leave the country if need be and be treated with dignity and respect.”
The number of labourers working directly on Qatari World Cup stadiums increased from 2,000 to 4,000 in the past year and is expected to grow to 36,000 in the next two years. Amnesty International accuses Fifa and Qatari authorities of ongoing indifference to systemic abuse of workers on stadiums that will host the 2022 World Cup. There was evidence that some workers on the stadium contracted to a labour-supply company “appear to have been subjected to forced labour”.
It said that workers refurbishing the Khalifa stadium, scheduled to host one of the World Cup semi-finals in 2022, reported they were forced to live in squalid accommodation, appeared to pay huge recruitment fees, and have had wages withheld and passports confiscated. Qatari law prohibits retention of passports, delayed payment of wages or deceptive recruitment (where workers are promised a certain wage in their country of origin only to be paid less when they arrive). But Amnesty found evidence that all of those practices remained widespread during the period in question. The Amnesty report alleges that while the organising committee has introduced welfare standards there are “significant gaps in application” and its efforts have been undermined by indifference from Fifa and apathy from the Qatari authorities.
Of the men interviewed, there was evidence of workers being threatened with non-payment of wages, being deported or – conversely – not being allowed to leave Qatar because their employer would not provide an exit permit. many reported their wages being paid three or four months in arrears. All the men interviewed had taken out loans to pay for recruitment-related fees, often to agencies in their home country. The practice is forbidden by Qatari law but remains widespread. Amnesty concluded that the human rights abuses it documented were the result of “multiple failures” and that while there had been a belated focus on the quality of workers’ accommodation by some of the companies involved, they have done little to address other well-documented issues such as deception in the recruitment process. The report is particularly critical of Fifa’s failure to exert pressure on the Qatari authorities and a “lack of meaningful action to address the issue”.
The Amnesty report concludes its “actions and omissions offer little hope that Fifa plans to do all it can to ensure that the 2022 World Cup will leave a positive legacy and not a trail of human misery”.
Shetty said: “Despite five years of promises, Fifa has failed almost completely to stop the World Cup being built on human rights abuses.”