Qatar World Cup provides 'limited window' to improve migrant workers' rights

by Zoe Tabary | zoetabary | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 15 March 2018 16:06 GMT

Migrant labourers work at a construction site at the Aspire Zone in Doha, Qatar, March 26, 2016. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon

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"Workers' visas are held as a dagger over their head"

By Zoe Tabary

LONDON, March 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The 2022 soccer World Cup offers Qatar a "limited window" to improve migrant workers' rights, experts said, adding that the host country must stick to its October pledge to enact sweeping labour reforms.

Since winning its World Cup bid, Qatar has committed itself to better treatment of migrant workers, whom campaigners say often live in squalid conditions and work 12 hours a day in sweltering heat.

"If it weren't for the World Cup, migrants' rights in Qatar would not be on people's radar," said Adam Sobel, director of 'The Workers Cup', a documentary which focuses on the lives of migrant workers playing their own soccer tournament in Qatar.

"But people care about the issue now, so we should use this limited window to improve their working conditions," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday.

Rights and labour groups have campaigned for years about the kafala system, which forces Qatar's 1.6 million mainly Asian workers to seek their employer's consent to change jobs or leave the country. They say that leaves workers open to exploitation.

Gulf labour rights researcher Mustafa Qadri said "kafala creates a power dynamic where if you're abused or exploited by your employer, you feel unable to say anything about it".

"Workers' visas are held as a dagger over their head," he said at a screening of 'The Workers Cup' at the Human Rights Watch film festival in London on Wednesday.

Young men are frequently lured by recruiters to World Cup construction sites under false pretences – only to find that the job on offer is completely different, said Qadri.

Kenneth, an aspiring footballer featured in the film, said he paid $1,500 to a fixer in Ghana who promised he would help him join a football club in Qatar, before realising life in the labour camp was like being "trapped in a box".

Last month Guy Ryder, the head of the International Labour Organization (ILO), said he envisaged that the kafala system would be replaced "this year".

The film launched at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017. It will have its first public screening in Qatar next week.

Producer Rosie Garthwaite said people who saw it had expressed "shock at the huge human potential lying in labour camps that does nothing but dig and sweep".

In November the ILO closed a complaint by workers against Qatar after the government introduced legislation to protect them and pledged further reforms as well as technical cooperation with the U.N. agency.

(Reporting by Zoe Tabary @zoetabary, Editing by Robert Carmichael. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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