Building a new future: the 2022 FIFA World Cup as a potential catalyst for labor reform in Qatar.

AuthorCrocombe, Nigel G.
PositionInternational Federation of Football Ass'n

    On December 2, 2010, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup (World Cup) to Qatar, a bold selection that shocked the international sporting community and brought scenes of jubilation to the streets of Doha. (1) Now, Qatar, the first Middle Eastern country to host the tournament, is eager to leverage the event to spur extensive economic development and redefine itself as a modern center for business and tourism. (2) Unfortunately, in its pursuit of this vision, Qatar routinely fails to adhere to International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, which mandate the abolition of forced labor. (3) Qatar allows employers to abuse and exploit millions of migrant workers by circumventing its limited labor laws and capitalizing on its lack of adequate government oversight. (4) If Qatar does not act soon to uphold its international commitments and seriously address labor reform, there will be more migrant worker deaths from building World Cup stadia than there will be athletes competing in the entire tournament. (5)

    This Note will explore how Qatar's failed international commitments, weak domestic laws, and poor government oversight facilitate the abuse and exploitation of millions of migrant workers during the construction boom leading up to the World Cup. (6) Part II of this Note will focus on the problems that migrant workers encounter in light of the respective international and domestic legal frameworks. (7) Part III of this Note will discuss the pertinent ILO conventions, as well as Qatar's current labor laws. (8) Next, Part IV of this Note will provide prescriptive ideas to end forced labor in Qatar, recommending that it adhere to ILO conventions, dramatically increase the size and authority of oversight agencies, and reform domestic labor laws. (9) Finally, Part V of this Note will conclude by underscoring that the World Cup can be a potential catalyst for labor reform and that this is an historic opportunity to help empower millions of migrant workers. (10)

  2. FACTS

    1. Recent Development in Qatar

      During the past decade, Qatar rapidly developed into a modern, thriving, and increasingly influential Middle Eastern nation. (11) Emir Sheikh Hammad bin Khalifa Al-Thani (the Emir), the powerful head of Qatar's constitutional monarchy, is primarily responsible for guiding the emirate's growth and bringing about this transformation. (12) Under the Emir's leadership, Qatar aggressively invested its abundant oil and gas revenues into major economic development initiatives. (13) The resulting economic prosperity disproportionately benefits Qatar's 300,000 citizens, who only account for 15% of the population. (14) Today, Qatari citizens enjoy near-universal employment in lucrative public sector positions and significant state benefits. (15) Consequently, for many Qataris, the privilege of hosting the World Cup is the culmination of a decade of progress and transition. (16)

    2. The Winning World Cup Bid

      The FIFA Executive Committee voted to award Qatar the World Cup after a lengthy and competitive bidding process. (17) As part of the vetting process, the FIFA Executive Committee compiled an in-depth report of the benefits and challenges facing Qatar's bid; however, the report largely overlooked the presence and treatment of migrant workers. (18) FIFA has yet to signal how it will address the migrant worker abuse in Qatar, but it has launched a serious ethical investigation into Qatar's World Cup bid following accusations of bribery and corruption related to Qatar's bid. (19) While the recent claims do not directly relate to the problems affecting migrant workers, they could lend credence to ongoing allegations that members of the FIFA Executive Committee were willing to overlook these problems--as well as other logistical issues--in exchange for bribes. (20) Qatar continues to deny any wrongdoing. (21)

      In response to growing international criticism concerning Qatar's labor practices, FIFA defended its selection of Qatar and emphasized that FIFA strives to uphold respect for human rights and international norms of behavior. (22) Notably, the international community's criticism of Qatar's labor practices echoes some of the complaints made prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, where FIFA successfully pushed the South African government to address some similar concerns. (23) Likewise in Qatar, FIFA has stated publicly that it is committed to working with the government to address labor issues. (24) Moreover, FIFA is considering including labor-related criteria as a part of the bidding process for the selection of future World Cup locations. (25)

    3. Migrant Workers and Forced Labor in Qatar

      1. Living Conditions

        On the outskirts of Doha, the epicenter of Qatar's growth and ambition, there is a segregated, sprawling worker camp called the Industrial Area, which houses hundreds of thousands of male migrant workers. (26) Despite the Industrial Area's immense population of over 200,000 workers, Qatar ensures it remains hidden from Qataris and foreign visitors. (27) Within its walls, employers regularly house nearly two dozen men into cramped bedrooms, many of which lack fundamental necessities, such as running water and electricity. (28) In the summer months, where temperatures skyrocket up to 50[degrees]C, air conditioners are scarce and proper ventilation is non-existent. (29) To make matters worse, employers frequently dock migrant workers' salaries to cover basic living expenses such as bedding, food, and healthcare. (30)

        Yet, the Industrial Area is only one of many similar worker camps scattered throughout Qatar. (31) Qatar's Labour Department employs only five health inspectors to monitor the conditions of these camps, which collectively house over 1.2 million migrant workers. (32) Due to the limited number of health inspectors, employers maintain inhuman living conditions at worker camps and operate largely unhindered by the government. (33) For its part, the Qatari government allows employers to develop these large worker camps to accommodate the ongoing surge of migrant workers. (34) To complete its World Cup projects and commitments, Qatar must admit an additional one million migrant workers over the next few years, due to its low population and lack of an indigenous working class. (35) Migrant workers, in turn, are eager to secure employment opportunities in Qatar's burgeoning construction sector. (36) Employers, eager to maximize profits, frequently take advantage of the abundance of migrant workers and the lack of a minimum wage in Qatar to exploit these workers. (37)

        Importantly, Qatar allows employers to use recruitment agencies in order to find workers willing to fill these positions. (38) These agencies, which act as intermediaries between employers and workers, primarily find migrant workers for employers and trade work visas. (39) Most of these recruitment agencies operate in Southeastern Asia and attract an international workforce of young men, who are often anxious to find employment to support their families. (40) Migrant workers do have to sign an employer's sponsorship contract, but these must be in Arabic; because few migrant workers are able to read Arabic, they must rely on the good faith of the agent. (41) In spite of the high volume of jobs available, recruitment agencies often successfully extract exorbitant recruitment fees from migrant workers, who are desperate to find work. (42) In many cases, migrant workers even feel forced to take out high-interest loans to pay for recruitment fees. (43)

      2. Working Conditions

        On arrival in Qatar, migrant workers also have to obtain a written contract and apply for a residency permit, which involves yielding their passports to their employers. (44) Employers routinely keep workers' passports for the duration of the contract in order to prevent migrant workers from leaving the state without their permission. (45) Migrant workers often find the conditions of their employment are substantially different from what they contracted for at home. (46) In addition, when they be gin to work, they face lengthy, unpaid commutes up to four hours roundtrip between their camps and the worksites and have to endure long workdays, even during the sweltering summer months. (47) In addition, nearly one-third of employers do not pay migrant workers on time, or at all, and these workers have few viable options for recourse with the government or their employer. (48)

        Employers also place migrant workers in dangerous conditions, without any safety precautions or prior training. (49) These factors combine to result in the deaths of hundreds of migrant workers each year, many of which employers fail to report. (50) Employers, management, and subcontractors encourage workers to keep quiet about workplace injuries and fatalities, which further suppresses reporting of accurate data. (51) While the Qatari government maintains that there were no more than six construction related deaths over the last three years, independent reports suggest that in the summer of 2013 one Nepalese worker died every day in Qatar. (52) Cardiac arrest is an alarmingly common cause of worker deaths due to strenuous work in hot temperatures. (53) In the near future, the number of injuries and deaths at worksites will likely escalate as construction increases. (54)

        In addition to employing the five health inspectors, as discussed earlier, Qatar also employs 150 work inspectors, who oversee working conditions for Qataris and the more than 1.2 million migrant workers. (55) The Labour Ministry concedes that work inspections do not include worker interviews, and that most work inspectors do not speak any of the common languages spoken by migrant workers. (56) Qatar's labor complaints hotline, which only receives worker complaints in Arabic and English, also reflects this inability to communicate between work inspectors and migrant...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT