The first Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is for countries to eliminate poverty. Qatar is an interesting case. While it is the second richest country in the world with an excess of riches through its oil wealth, its kafala sponsorship system has created a great disparity between its migrant population and native Qataris. The kafala system is a labor system that is a predominant culprit of poor living conditions in Qatar. Unfortunately, little data exists on updates on SDG 1 in Qatar. On the whole, Qatar has made some progress in recent years in tackling poverty, and this has been centered around fixing a broken labor system. Since Qatar won the World Cup bid back in 2010, its overall SDG rating has increased from 62.83 in 2010 to an updated score of 66.8 in 2022.
Perhaps the most positive impact of the World Cup came before the tournament commenced. In 2021, the Qatari government announced the implementation of a new increased universal minimum wage. The U.N.’s International Labor Organization (ILO) has said that this will benefit more than 400,000 workers.
However, as reports have widely stated, many of Qatar’s advancements in labor rights have not been unanimous. There remain reports of foreign workers, which make up 95% of the working population, receiving less than $1 an hour despite the legislative progress.
Under the kafala system, many foreign workers pay a fee to come to Qatar to work. This has been the primary reason for a lack of progress on SDG 1 in Qatar. Workers must work off this fee and often experience uncompromising working conditions, with 12-hour days and no days off. Another often-underreported dimension of this includes the abuse of female workers who take jobs as live-in maids and are extremely vulnerable.
Hosting a World Cup is a tremendous commitment and something that requires a variety of complex infrastructure. Qatar has built a new airport, metro system, hundreds of new hotels and multiple new modern stadiums. This has had a direct impact on SDG 8 as economic growth steadily increases and unemployment decreases.
Approximately 20,000 workers have come under the guise of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the committee that oversaw the planning and building of the World Cup, reflecting a massive surge in employment. There have clearly been transgressions in working conditions during the preparation for the tournament, with concerning reports of worker deaths. However, there is also hope that the building of this infrastructure will trickle down and benefit the entire population.
Similarly, Amnesty International has devised a comprehensive 10-point plan to reform the labor system. This plan reflects how many of the reforms Qatar has made to its kafala system are not far-reaching enough, but with further revisions, foreign workers can have protection and enjoy greater autonomy. For instance, the government changed a law that previously meant that workers had to ask their employers’ permission to leave Qatar in 2020. Now, workers must still inform their employers.
The work of Amnesty International has influenced progress, with an expose in June 2020 surrounding the building of the Al Bayt stadium and its subpar working conditions leading to much international outcry. One can see the progress that occurred in labor reform thereafter as a direct consequence of the NGO’s investigation.
Overall, unfortunately, there is a lack of data surrounding poverty levels and SDG 1 in Qatar. Much of the data that the government released only includes native Qatari who enjoy great benefits from the government. It remains evident that migrant workers bear the brunt of poverty, and it has been reported that Bangladeshi workers, for instance, can earn as little as $275 a month.
– Claudia Dooley