Qatar has an estimated budget of 62 billion pounds for the hotels, infrastructure, stadiums and other buildings that it needs for the 2022 World Cup. Qatar has relied on migrant workers from countries such as India, Nepal and Sri Lanka to complete these building projects. However, the work for migrant workers is extremely difficult and many are dying, most likely as a consequence of the harsh conditions that they are forced to live and work in.
Since 2013, Qatar has been under investigations by groups such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch, who are worried that Qatar’s migrant workforce is being treated as modern-day slaves. According to a 2013 report from the Guardian, over 4,000 workers will die as a result of the conditions that they are subjected to while they prepare for the World Cup. From June 4 to August 8 in the same year, 44 Nepalese workers died, and half of those deaths were related to heart failure or workplace accidents.
Heart failure and heat strokes are common, since many workers are forced to slave away in extremely hot temperatures—up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit—and are sometimes not given access to free drinking water. This has led to many complaints from workers. More than 80 workers from India died from January to May 2013, and 1,460 complained to the embassy about problems related to labor conditions.
While it may seem like the best solution is for workers to go home, unfortunately, it is not that simple. Qatar and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, have instituted the kafala system—a system of sponsorship in which migrant workers are not allowed to change jobs or leave the country without a sponsor’s permission. Many sponsors hold the passports of migrant workers, making it impossible for them to leave. Workers are also often jilted out of the money that they were promised, and contracts are sometimes in English or other languages foreign to migrant workers, meaning that workers are forced to sign contracts that they do not understand.
Qatar promised that they would reform the kafala system after the deaths of migrant workers were bought to light. However, as The Guardian states, the system that Qatar plans to replace the kafala with will still ensure that employees are tied to their employers for the length of their contract, which can last for as long as five years.
An estimated 1,200 workers have died since Qatar began to construct its stadiums for the World Cup. However, this week, Qatar’s state news agency has issued a statement claiming that no workers have died during construction for the World Cup. They claim that no workers died while at work, and therefore argue that the assumption that the deaths of migrant workers are work related, is incorrect.
While it is most likely true that not all the deaths of migrant workers are work related, the fact remains that many of the deaths probably are a result of the poor living and working conditions that migrants are forced to face. Qatar is also hesitant to let reporters research the conditions of migrant workers in the country. In May of 2015, they arrested a group of BBC reporters who attempted to do so.
The problems with workers for the FIFA World Cup are representative of larger socioeconomic problems in Qatar. Qatar is the world’s richest country by income per capita. Its growing industry and infrastructure attract migrant workers determined to improve their living conditions by moving to such a rich country. However, migrant workers are treated extremely poorly. They are crammed into overcrowded living conditions of six to eight men in a room, and up to 40 men have to share a kitchen. The living conditions are unhygienic and bathrooms and washers are so dirty that some men are forced to use buckets of water to wash instead.
There are over 1.2 million migrant workers making up the workforce in Qatar. These workers are subjected to physical, verbal and sexual abuse. It is especially difficult for migrant workers who work in domestic situations. As the Human Rights Watch states, these workers are normally women, and they are especially vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse, as they are sometimes locked in the homes where they work and are not given protection under Qatari Labor Law.
The poor treatment of migrant workers might be an attempt by Qatar to keep its population under control. After all, over 80 percent of the Qatari population is now composed of migrant workers, meaning that 20 percent of the population actually benefits from the riches of Qatar, while the rest are forced to suffer. As one Nepalese migrant worker states, “No one respects our feelings, we are just labor, all people hate us.” Unless Qatar changes its laws and issues drastic reforms, it risks becoming a country where modern day slavery becomes more and more prevalent, and the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen.
— Ashrita Rau