Human Rights Violations in Qatar
Table of Contents
The World Cup is the most watched sporting event in the world, which dates back to 1930 when only thirteen teams participated in the tournament (Glanville, 2010). It has since expanded to accommodate 32 teams. It involves qualification stages during which about 200 teams participate annually. In the early 1900s, there were a few national teams globally (Glanville, 2010). However, soccer’s popularity has increased and in 1904, FIFA, the soccer global governing body, was consolidated. Consequently, soccer started to be considered an Olympic sport and was contested at the 1904 Olympics and the 1906 Intercalated Games. It later became an official sport supervised by FIFA (Glanville, 2010). In 1906, FIFA attempted to host an international tournament that involved teams from all over the world but failed. FIFA would later advance and go through transformations that made it a world soccer governing body, hence achieving consequent success (Glanville, 2010). The competition is now held once every four years with the last one taking place in 2014 (Glanville, 2010). Brazil was the host of the most recent FIFA World Cup tournaments. In 2018, the World Cup is scheduled to be hosted in Russia (Glanville, 2010). The subsequent World Cup is to be held in 2022 in Qatar which is considered to violate human rights during its preparation. The history of the world cup and violation of human rights that have been reported in Qatar during the preparation of the 2022 World Cup.
2022 World Cup Background
The hosting rights are earned through a bidding process (Glanville, 2010). The process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups began in the year 2009. Thirteen countries placed eleven bids. One bid was consequently rejected by the committee that voted in the year 2010 (Glanville, 2010). The 2022 World Cup had been bid by Australia, Japan, Qatar, South Korea, and the United States. Indonesia had its bid disqualified due to the lack of government support and Mexico voluntarily withdrew its bid because of financial reasons. Russia and Qatar were selected as suitable hosts for the 2018 and 2022 events, respectively (Glanville, 2010). However, there were allegations of bribery by Qatari officials (Glanville, 2010).
In 2022, FIFA World Cup is going to be the 22nd edition of the World Cup. Qatar will be the first Arab state to host the competition (Glanville, 2010). Consequently, for the first time, the World Cup will be in the Middle East region. The tournament is scheduled for November, which is different from the traditional way of hosting it in July and June (Glanville, 2010). Hosting the World Cup involves many preparations. First, the venues have to be prepared in advance to ensure that everything goes as planned. Many people attend the competition; hence, the stadiums and the accommodation spots have to be expanded. In Qatar, the stadiums aim at embracing a cooling technology of up to 20°C, which is meant to cope with the heat (Glanville, 2010). The five stadiums to be used are designed by German architect Albert Speer & Partners. The World Cup presents a significant benefit for the host country’s economy (Glanville, 2010).
FIFA World Cup has numerous corporate sponsors and is watched by millions of people all over the world. The sponsors include Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Adidas which spend a significant amount of money on the country’s economy, making hosting the World Cup a prestigious undertaking (Glanville, 2010). The host country as such has to meet several requirements before the beginning of the tournament. In particular, the stadiums have to be in a standard condition that has been set by FIFA requirements. Moreover, there has to be a sophisticated cover for the stands that will cover more than ten thousand cars. Finally, there should be a place for VIP guests and journalists (Glanville, 2010).
The construction is both capital and labor intensive. Due to the nature of prestige associated with the event, the preparations have begun in advance to ensure that the country is ready and nothing goes wrong in 2022 (Glanville, 2010). Qatar is expected to spend about 100 million US dollars on the preparation of the tournament, including the construction of new roads, hotels, and stadiums. Extensive preparations made the country seek for migrant workers to work on the project (Pattisson, 2013).
Worker’s Rights Violation
Qatar has been reported to abuse human and labor rights in its preparation for the tournament. The conditions of laborers working on the construction sites have been reported to be below the accepted standards (Pattisson, 2013). The worker’s pay is also said to be insufficient. Qatar previously experienced low levels of domestic dissent compared to its neighbors; however, the situation has changed since its successful bid to host the World Cup (Pattisson, 2013). Despite a rise in international criticism, Qatar has failed to enact meaningful reforms in its labor system. Its current system facilitates trafficking and forced labor of workers. Moreover, there is a new cybercrime law that poses a great danger to the freedom of expression of liberal minds in the country and the public, in general (Pattisson, 2013).
The country has a population of about 2 million people among which only ten percent is Qatari nationals (Pattisson, 2013). Workers migrate from Asia and even Africa to work in the country’s industries. They end up being low-paid, and their wages are below the minimum wages set internationally. In 2014, due to increasing international criticism, Qatari authorities enacted labor reforms (Pattisson, 2013). The criticism concerned workers who were building the stadium and other facilities that were prerequisite for the World Cup. The reforms, however, did not address all the issues raised. In particular, they did not offer protection for migrant workers against human trafficking, forced labor, and other widespread violations. It remains unclear whether the said laws will protect domestic workers (Pattisson, 2013). These labor laws have thus proved ineffective in dealing with the appalling conditions that the workers curently face. Qatar’s persistent labor reform delays form a catalyst for national human rights disaster (Brannagan & Giulianotti, 2014). Too many issues are not tackled, leaving employees at the mercy of employers. In fact, Pattisson (2013) states that something needs to be done soon; otherwise, football fans who will be watching the World Cup in 2022 will be unsure of whether or not they are benefiting from the sweat, tears, and blood of migrant workers. FIFA has to play its part in ensuring that Qatar complies with the human rights or deny the right to host the event. It should work closely with the government to guarantee that the World Cup does not lose its respect by being built on the exploitation of workers. The exploitation has been done in the following ways: use of kafala sponsorship system, violation of freedom of expression, poor living conditions of workers, lack of the consideration of women and gay rights and the inhumane working conditions that lead to the death of workers (Brannagan & Giulianotti, 2014).
Kafala Sponsorship System
The kafala sponsorship system is a system that seeks to monitor migrant workers who mostly work on construction sites, such as Lebanon, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia (Brannagan & Giulianotti, 2014). It sets requirements to all laborers, especially unskilled ones, to have an in-country sponsor who is responsible for the employee’s visa and legal status. Human rights authorities have criticized this system because it has slavelike aspects and contradicts the labor laws. According to the law, there should be equal rights between the employer and the employee (Brannagan & Giulianotti, 2014). However, the kafala gives the employer too much power over the worker. For instance, the employer has the power to decide and define the process of recruitment and working conditions. It is paradoxical that the kafala is not a law but a tradition that seems to take precedence over the existing labor laws (Brannagan & Giulianotti, 2014).
Qatar is employing kafala in the management of laborers who work on the construction and preparation of the World Cup. It has made the sponsorship a lucrative business at the expense of the rights of the employee. In the early 1930s, it was used to show Arab hospitality. However, the situation has changed since unscrupulous sponsors (kafeels) have taken advantage to exploit the workers. The kafala is retrogressive because it restricts labor mobility (Brannagan & Giulianotti, 2014). The laborer can only move with an approval of the kafeel. Therefore, workers are left at the mercy of the sponsor and can only leave if they have sponsor’s permission. Workers in Qatar are victims of blackmail from their sponsors. If they raise questions about the employment status, kafeels can have them deported, which forces workers to accept the inhumane terms and conditions given to them.
According to Gibson and Pattison (2014), the kafeel can also shift the financial burden on the worker. The sponsor is expected to meet medical insurance fee and any other fee that relates to the employee’s residence and work permit. Workers are not supposed to cover any of these expenses. However, the intermediaries of the sponsors, such as recruitment agencies in Qatar, charge fees to migrant workers (Gibson & Pattison, 2014). The worker also pays delays that may occur and any other inefficiencies. Some kafeels also withhold final payments for migrant workers in Qatar to recover recruitment expenses. Some even further exploit workers by leasing their sponsorship against the payments. This trend has made the sponsorship of foreign workers a lucrative business in Qatar. There might be a few kafeels who support this practice, but their victims extend to tens of thousands (Gibson & Pattison, 2014).
There has been an issue of passports of workers being retained (Gibson & Pattison, 2014), which has in many instances led to forced labor in Qatar. The laborers are forced to work on the construction sites for longer hours than required and they receive no overtime payment for the extra hours. Their employers also deny them weekly rests and completely ignore annual leaves. Many people working in Qatar’s construction sector complained of harassment. The government of Qatar has banned the withholding of passports and recognized the right of expatriate workers to complain and recover their passports (Gibson & Pattison, 2014). This move, however, would lead to hostility between workers and their employers. The move may also result in punishments in the form of wage cuts and non-renewal of contracts. In extreme cases, such a move by the worker may lead to deportation (Gibson & Pattison, 2014). Some laborers hired by independent contractors in Qatar do not receive their end of service dues and arrears. They are blackmailed into signing declarations that they have received their dues fully in exchange for their passports. Some employers even fail to release their employees once the employment contract has ended, which prevents the employee from seeking employment from another company in Qatar. In some cases, the employer withholds the employee indefinitely while trying to extort money from the worker. It is clear that the kafala system is leading to violations of human rights of people who are working on World Cup preparation.
The government announced that the kafala system would be replaced by a system based on employment contracts (Gibson & Pattison, 2014). However, the details of this new system indicate that workers will still be bound to their employers. The statement from the Qatari government indicated that workers would be able to secure objection certificates but only after five years of employment with one employer. This system leaves the worker tied to the employer for a period of five years during which the rights of the worker can be violated and the worker has no right to complain (Gibson & Pattison, 2014). The government has not sufficiently responded to human rights issues raised in Qatar. It also did not give clear deadlines as to when the reforms it proposes would bbe implemented. It shows the lack of political will to end the suffering of people working on the preparation for the 2022 World Cup (Gibson & Pattison, 2014).
The Death of Construction Workers
Despite the government announcing it would improve the working conditions of workers, Nepalese migrants working on Qatar’s construction sites were reported to be dying at the rate of one in every two days in 2014 (Gibson & Pattison, 2014). These laborers were working on the preparation of the 2022 World Cup. The figures exclude Indian, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi nationals, which raises fears that the death rates could even have been higher. The government commissioned an investigation by an international law firm DLA Piper and promised that the recommendations would be put into effect in May 2014 (Gibson & Pattison, 2014). The government has, however, been criticized by human rights groups for the delay in implementing the reforms. The deaths were reported because of the long hours the workers endured in extreme temperatures.
Nepalese officials reported that 157 workers had died between January and November 2014. The death was caused by cardiac arrests and heart failures. In the year 2013, the death toll was reported to be 168 workers (Gibson & Pattison, 2014). People who are exposed to high temperatures become more vulnerable to fatal heart strokes. The Qatari government rejected a proposal by DLA Piper to launch investigations into the deaths. There have been arguments that the figures could be compared with the ones gathered in the home country of Nepal. However, a considerable number of workers are dying because of accidents that occur during the construction of stadiums. It can be considered a blatant abuse of human rights and the Qatar government should be held responsible for such deaths.
In 2014, a study by the International Trade Union Confederation estimated that about 4000 workers could die before the beginning of the World Cup in 2022 (Gibson & Pattison, 2014). Officials in Qatar would later issue a statement condemning the report and stating that the rate of worker deaths in the country is similar to other countries that have a similar population of laborers.
Freedom of Expression
In September 2014, Qatar issued a law on the suppression of electronic crimes (Gibson & Pattison, 2014). This act is a threat to the freedom of expression. It provides for the prosecution of anyone who may publish false statements that have an intent to endanger the public order. Anyone who also publishes information that is deemed to infringe on social principles and values faces a legal penalty (Pattison, 2013). Under the new legal framework, authorities may ban websites that they consider threatening to the safety of the country and even punish anyone who shares online content they deem to be unfit.
The new law is a setback to the freedom of expression in Qatar (Pattison, 2013). The government has extensive powers to punish individuals who print or share information that undermines its reputation hence may stifle the truth (Pattison, 2013). The new legal framework could also undermine peaceful expressions. In one case, a poet was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for writing a poem that was considered critical of the ruling family. These laws have contributed to the abuse of human rights of laborers working on the preparation of the World Cup. This is effectively done by ensuring that no one condemns the government and its citizens for the unfair treatment offered to workers (Pattison, 2013).
In 2014, authorities detained two citizens of British origin who were in Qatar compiling a research document on the living and working conditions of migrant workers. It held them in incommunicado detention for a period of eleven days before finally releasing them. Therefore, it is clear that anyone who aims at revealing the truth about migrant laborers who are working in the construction sectors of the World Cup faces the danger of being penalized. Moreover, this law applies to the workers themselves since they cannot post any digital content that provides an insight into their working conditions. Such a story may lead to imprisonment or a heavy fine.
Poor Living Conditions of Workers
A report released by Amnesty International shows that workers who are building infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup are living in extremely poor conditions. The report even describes the conditions as miserable. It states that workers are subject to modern forms of slavery and abused by the subcontractors (Pattison, 2013).
Workers live in squalid and overcrowded accommodations that are unfit for human occupations. They are exposed to sewage and sometimes lack of water (Pattison, 2013). These inhumane conditions are accelerated by the fact that most workers have high debts and hence are unable to return home. Laborers are also undergoing psychological distress and some have even attempted to commit suicide. Discrimination is also a problem, which is extreme to the extent of one manager referring to workers as animals (Pattison, 2013). It shows the lack of respect for the workers.
The International Trade Union Confederation reports that due to the development of the infrastructure, companies working in Qatar will make an estimated $15 billion in profits (Pattison, 2013). The companies will make these profits by using migrant workers as modern day slaves. The wage levels in Qatar are extremely low and are often based on a system of racial discrimination. These profits risk the safety of the worker, which often leads to injuries and sustained while working and sometimes death. Qatar labor laws remain ruinous for workers and the government has done nothing to codify slavery (Pattison, 2013). Employers in Qatar can lend out workers to one another, which disregards laborers’ consent, hence making the worker an object. Workers in Qatar are not represented by any labor union (Pattison, 2013), meaning that no decision is made with their involvement. The implication is oppression and nobody can speak out on their behalf.