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Modern Day Slavery in Qatar

by Stephen Lendman

November 21, 2013

Qatar is one of six Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG). The others in alphabetical order include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A previous article discussed appalling migrant worker conditions in Qatar. It has one of the worst human and civil rights records.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani rules despotically. Democratic rights are verboten. Torture and other forms of repression are commonplace. 

So is brutal worker exploitation. Foreign nationals suffer most. They endure conditions of modern day slavery.

A new Amnesty International (AI) report is titled "The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar's construction sector ahead of the World Cup." More on it below.

On November 15, Bloomberg headlined "Soccer Is Just Another Word for Slavery in Qatar." 

The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) chose Qatar as its 2022 World Cup games host country. It was an embarrassing choice.

"(M)igrant laborers aren't the only ones trapped" there, said Bloomberg. Frantic preparations continue for what "never should have been awarded in the first place."

Zahir Belounis is a French soccer player. For over a year, he's been trying to escape from Qatar. Its repressive labor laws prevent him.

"When you take a job in Qatar, you effectively surrender your passport to your employer."

It's called kafala. It's a sponsorship system. Migrant workers must obtain it. It commits them to bondage. They can't enter Qatar, leave, or change jobs without permission. It's modern day slavery.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) defines forced labor as "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which said person has not offered himself voluntarily."

Qatar violates international norms. "(M)any of the abuses that take place which can lead to forced labor are still happening," said the ILO.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) warned that at least 4,000 workers would die between now and the first World Cup 2022 soccer match if Qatar didn't change its working practices.

"Whether you're a Nepalese construction worker, a Filipino nanny or a professional French soccer player, you're stuck until your 'sponsor' releases you," said Bloomberg.

Belounis hasn't been paid since May 2012. He's struggling to support his family. France hasn't helped. Nor has FIFA president Sepp Blatter. He's "the Oliver Hardy of" world soccer, said Bloomberg.

In an emotional letter to soccer legends Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola, Benounis pleaded for help. "The system in Qatar is killing me," he said. 

"I ask you to use your influence as football ambassadors to talk about what is happening to me and what is happening to many other young men here in Qatar." 

"People are being kept far from their countries because of the exit visa system. This system should not exist, and we need people like you, who love sport and its (good) image, to make our voices heard."

"I speak to you as fathers and as former footballers and I ask you, please speak up and do what you can to help me get home."

Amnesty International (AI) discussed outrageous migrant worker abuses. They're treated like cattle. What's ongoing amounts to forced labor. According to AI's secretary general Salil Shetty:

"It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world, that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive."

"Construction companies and the Qatari authorities alike are failing migrant workers." 

"Employers in Qatar have displayed an appalling disregard for the basic human rights." 

"Many are taking advantage of a permissive environment and lax enforcement of labour protections to exploit construction workers."

"Fifa has a duty to send a strong public message that it will not tolerate human rights abuses on construction projects related to the World Cup."

"Turning a blind eye to any form of exploitation is unforgivable, particularly when it is destroying people's lives and livelihoods.

Qatari migrant construction workers usually work for small and medium-sized construction companies. They're subcontracted to major ones. They take full advantage of virtual forced labor.

AI published its report days after Blatter met with Sheik Al Thani. He regurgitated the lie told him. He declared Qatar "on the right track" in handling worker rights.

"What was presented to us shows that they are going forward not only today but have already started months ago with the problems with labour and workers," he added. 

The labour laws will be amended and are already in the process of being amended."

Abusive practices continue. Nothing has been done so far to change things.

AI based its report on scores of interviews "with workers, employers and government officials." It documented horrendous abuses.

Dangerous working conditions persist. Wages often aren't paid. Worker accommodations are "shocking." 

Air conditioning is lacking. Workers are exposed to overflowing sewage and uncovered septic tanks. Some have no running water or electricity.

Many migrants feel trapped. Employers prevent them from leaving. Debts mount. They can't support their families. They suffer "severe psychological stress." Some consider suicide. At least one manager called workers "animals." 

They're worked up to 12 hours a day seven days a week. They do it in scorching summer heat. Qatar's labor laws stipulate a maximum 10-hour day. They say no one should work in summer heat from 11:30AM to 3PM.

In recent months, dozens of Nepalese workers died. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) believes about 12 will die weekly unless abusive practices stop.

Between now and 2022, it thinks at least 4,000 will perish. It bases its estimate on current Nepalese and Indian construction worker mortality figures.

The combination of dangerous working conditions and cramped/squalid/unsanitary living quarters bears full responsibility.

Workers arrive healthy. Many become ill. A shocking number die. On-the-job accidents claim many. Appalling living conditions, inadequate food and water take more.

ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said:

"Nothing of any substance is being done by the Qatar authorities on this issue."

"The evidence-based assessment of the mortality rate of migrant workers in Qatar shows that at least one worker on average per day is dying." 

"In the absence of real measures to tackle that and an increase in 50% of the migrant workforce, there will be a concomitant increase in deaths."

"We are absolutely convinced they are dying because of conditions of work and life. There are harrowing testimonies from the workers in the system there."

Around 1.2 million migrants now work in Qatar. ITUC estimates around another million will be enlisted to complete work by 2022.

"Fifa needs to send a very strong and clear message to Qatar that it will not allow the World Cup to be delivered on the back of a system of modern slavery that is the reality for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers there today," added Burrow.

Qatar's kafala system "permits abuse and traps workers," said AI. Doha's main hospital spokesperson said over 1,000 workers were admitted to its trauma unit in 2012.

About 10% were disabled. Some died. AI documented shocking government disregard for migrant worker rights.

They arrive "full of hopes," said AI. They're dashed straightaway. "Please tell me - is there any way to get out of here? We are going totally mad," one Nepalese worker told AI.

He's being worked to death. He hadn't been paid for months. He's prevented from leaving. Other migrants endure the same harshness.

In 2011, AI reported on "False Promises: Exploitation and forced labour of Nepalese migrant workers." It found similar abusive practices in all Gulf States. Modern day slavery thrives.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 

His new book is titled "Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity."


:: Article nr. 102781 sent on 23-nov-2013 23:25 ECT


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