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Is the 2022 World Cup tainted by forced labor?

By Krysta Bisnauth, Freedom United

Ever since Qatar was awarded the World Cup hosting title, advocates had hoped that the accompanying global spotlight would have led to critical labor reform. Instead, over the past 10 years, regular reports of migrant worker abuse, forced labor and deaths in Qatar have continued to surface.[1]  
One year away from World Cup 2022, Qatar’s kafala (sponsorship) system still makes it practically impossible for workers to leave their employers meaning those who are exploited are effectively trapped. Something must be done.  

Migrant workers make up over 90% of the workforce in Qatar. Workers’ rights groups have reported extensively for decades on the mistreatment of migrant workers. Typical accounts include excessively long working hours, physical or other assault, no time off, deliberate isolation from home and families, and lack of appropriate protection in dangerous work environments. 
The kafala system – a sponsorship system of employment tying migrant workers to their employers â€“ means that even if working conditions are unbearable, migrants are forced to continue working. 
Methods of keeping migrant workers from leaving jobs include withholding their passports, billing them high recruitment expenses, withholding salaries, not giving or renewing residence permits and threatening them with deportation.  
“He just shouted abuse at me and said that if I complained again I’d never leave the country. Ever since I have been careful not to complain about my salary or anything else. Of course, if I could I would change jobs or leave Qatar.” Migrant worker testimony to Amnesty International.[2] 

While better working conditions are largely up to employers, the government of Qatar can protect workers by ensuring they can walk away from abusive situations. If last year’s reforms are properly implemented, they would allow workers to leave undesirable jobs and freely seek employment elsewhere. Migrant work in Qatar doesn’t have to be exploitative or unsafe. 
Whenever Qatar makes the headlines for poor migrant worker treatment, there is talk of reform. After many years of promising to do better, the Qatari Ministry of Labor finally passed two laws to reform the existing kafala system.[3]  
But, several months later, full implementation is still lacking

The Qatari government claims the delay is just a natural matter of course. But activists and lawyers working on the ground say that a lack of sufficient resources and the sheer volume of cases is the real cause of the lag.[4]  
While Qatar continues to drag its feet when it comes to finding the manpower to improve working conditions for migrant workers, World Cup projects are progressing at a rapid rate thanks to hundreds of thousands of migrant workers. Migrant workers are behind massive World Cup infrastructure projects and there are now reports that Qatar has begun recruiting migrants to supplement its police force for work World Cup security – despite lacking requisite diplomatic arrangements.[5] We think migrant rights deserve at least the same level of urgency and prioritization as the World Cup. Don’t you agree?  

When the World Cup is over, there will be less eyes on Qatar and less urgency for the government to implement these crucial reforms.  

These reforms have taken far too long. We can’t let progress slip away.   
We must stand in solidarity with migrant workers in Qatar and demand they are protected from exploitation and modern slavery. 
Take action for migrant workers in Qatar today.
In solidarity, 

Krysta and the Freedom United team


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