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FIFA-Qatar-Kafala-System
The recent scandal surrounding corruption at FIFA has made headlines around the world. But could it affect the controversial 2022 World Cup in Qatar?

That remained in question Friday as FIFA re-elected Sepp Blatter as its president. The election comes on the heels of a massive corruption investigation involving the top brass of soccer’s governing body. The U.S. Department of Justice indicted 14 of the organization’s executives on dozens of separate charges this week. They are accused of “brazen corruption” in their dealings with sports marketing companies which generate billions for the organization.

FIFA is also accused of dishonesty in its selection process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively. The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland announced Wednesday that it would investigate “criminal mismanagement and money laundering” suspected to have taken place during the bidding process.

Though both selections raised eyebrows among soccer fans, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has proven to be the most controversial. The Gulf state has been widely accused of human rights abuses in its preparation for the event.

Migrant laborers seeking work in Qatar submit to a labor scheme, known as the kafala system, through which host companies “sponsor” foreign laborers. Upon arrival, many workers find their documentation confiscated and their rights severely limited. They sometimes work twelve hour days, seven days a week.

According to the International Labor Organization, the scheme is tantamount to slavery. An investigation by The Guardian found Nepalese workers in Qatar were dying at a rate of one every two days in 2014. Documents produced by that report list worker deaths caused by crushing and electrocution.

Without documentation papers, workers are prevented from ever leaving. Employers also withhold pay to suppress dissent.

Migrant workers play an enormous role in the economy of Qatar. Almost 90 percent of the country’s population is foreign-born and 99 percent of the private sector is foreign. Though human rights organizations and governments have complained, little has been done to address these issues.

Much of the work being conducted in this manner is in preparation for the 2022 World Cup, with contractors using the cheap labor to build facilities for the event.

If the current FIFA crisis continues, it will almost certainly jeopardize Qatar’s hosting opportunity. Sponsors have already begun to re-evaluate their relations with the organization and it is likely many will drop out.

As for the 2018 World Cup in Moscow, Blatter received a stamp of approval from another controversial president: Vladimir Putin. On Thursday, Putin said the investigation was an attempt to thwart Blatter’s re-election. The Russian leader, who was a champion of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, called the investigation “a grave violation of principles of international organization.”

– Kevin McLaughlin

Sources: Department of Justice, The Guardian, Human Rights Watch, Swiss Attorney General
Photo: Zee News

 

kafala system
Exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar has become an increasingly pressing issue since the implementation of the Kafala labor system. The Kafala system requires migrant workers to have a sponsor, usually their employee, to monitor their work and to control their visa and legal status. These sponsors, however, often prevent their laborers from moving jobs and have been known to either underpay or deny their employees pay.

Many workers from India, Sri Lanka and Nepal have been attracted by false promises from Qatari employers, but once contractually committed, they cannot leave the country without the permission of their sponsor.

Reporters from The Guardian ventured to some of these labor camps west of Doha and met 25-year-old Ujjwal Thapa from Nepal. He came to Qatar to work in order to send money back to his family, but had not been paid for months. His employer has his passport so he cannot leave, and upon his arrival, his family was required to take out a loan of 660 pounds from a private lender that has an interest rate of 48 percent per year.

Question as to whether Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup has been a topic of concern due to these human trafficking issues. In their report on human trafficking, the U.S. state department wrote that, “initial consent of a construction worker to accept hard work in a harsh environment does not waive his or her right to work free of abuse. When an employer or laborer recruiter deceives a worker about the terms of employment, withholds their passports, holds them in brutal conditions and exploits their labor, the workers are victims of trafficking.”

Eight to 12 stadiums would need to be built for the 2022 games, and although the Qatar organizing committee reported that no one had died yet building the stadiums, that is only due to the fact that the true building process has not yet begun. Between 2012 and 2013, 450 Indian laborers died and 184 Nepali workers have died in the past year.

General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Sharan Burrow, predicts that if the Kafala system does not change, 4,000 workers will lose their lives in preparation for the 2022 world cup.

The U.S. State Department is looking to end this system by May of 2015, and in their report on human trafficking, they noted that Qatar has promised to reform these unjust labor practices. Although no serious changes have been made to improve the labor system, Burrow believes that the Qatari government will change the system if refusing to change will deny them the chance to host the World Cup in 2022.

— Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: The Guardian, BusinessWeek, New York Times
Photo: DohaNews

Slavery in qatar
When many people think about the term “slavery,” they may reflect on it as a historical institution of the imperial powers of the West. They may even erroneously deem slavery as a decrepit artifact of the past. However, although many history textbooks tend to portray slavery as strictly a practice of the colonial and imperial past, this horrendous institution remains extant throughout many parts of the modern world, Qatar being one of them.

The very same countries that are thought of as exotic vacation hot-spots may also be teeming with covert slave trades. After all, since only a handful of nations are as developed and as advanced as the Western world, some of these less-developed nations rely on slave networks to buttress their nascent economies. For instance, the blistering topic of an emerging controversy unveiled by an investigation by The Guardian, slavery in Qatar has captured media attention because Qatar has purportedly used slave labor in its endeavors to prepare for World Cup 2022.

One may find it ironic that intense mistreatment can exist in a country whose population is composed primarily of migrant workers, however, it is an undeniable reality for many laborers in Qatar. Among Qatar’s two million residents, a paltry 225,000 are natural citizens with the rest of the populace primarily comprised of South Asian migrant workers. These workers hail from less-developed nations such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Qatari officials view the World Cup 2022 as a ceremony in which not only the classic sport of soccer is honored, but also in which cultural relations can be repaired. To prepare for the ceremony, Qatar is investing a reported $100 billion on infrastructure in addition to another $20 billion toward renovating roads and constructing new roads and stadiums. However, behind the glimmering windows and cascading high-rises lurks the masked scandal of slave labor.

According to the International Trade Union Confederation, approximately 4,000 South Asian workers will perish before the festivities of the World Cup 2022 even begin. Furthermore, an investigation by The Guardian unearthed shocking maltreatment of Nepalese laborers who have to endure conditions such as lack of water, food, payment and legal identification. With such horrific conditions, one may wonder how these laborers would ever agree to work for such exploitative employers. However, these unsuspecting migrant workers, eager to earn money and support their starving families, are often tricked into signing false contracts. For instance, workers are given one contract before arriving to Qatar, but upon arrival, they are given a second, demeaning contract. When news broke of the slave-like treatment of migrant workers, there was subsequent backlash.

In order to mitigate subsequent backlash, Qatar officials stated that they would replace the present kafala system with a more democratic system. The kafala system is a sponsorship system in which workers are bound to an all-powerful and oftentimes boundless employer. In a statement issued by the human rights director of the Qatari interior ministry, Colonel Abdullah Saqr al-Mohannadi, the Colonel professes that “We are going to abolish the kafala system and it will move to the legislative institutions… It will be replaced by a contractual relationship between employer and employee.”

Colonel Abdullah Saqr al-Mohannadi also proposes to modify this system by facilitating workers’ ability to obtain exit visas in order to leave their sponsor in the event of mistreatment or simply just a desire to seek other employment. A substantial portion of these reforms are based on advice from DLA Piper, a London law firm that had been mandated with the task of reviewing the implementation of revised labor laws in Qatar. For instance, DLA Piper proposed that a sponsor would be required to show substantial and viable proof supporting his or her objection to permitting a worker to terminate their labor services. Other reform proposals include implementing sanctions against inadequate employers and engendering a more closely-working relationship between the workers’ home countries and their host country.

Although the proposals by DLA may point to an easy resolution, the chances of Qatar following through on these orders is a topic of question and doubt. One major concern from Amnesty International is that although Qatar proposes modifications to the kafala system, all reforms must ultimately be verified and approved by the shura, or advisory council, that legislates many Emirate nations. According to Amnesty International, the shura is expected to strongly oppose the aforementioned proposed changes to the long-standing kafala system due to feared economic consequences.

For instance, Nicholas McGeehan, an activist from Human Rights Watch, voiced his concern by blatantly stating, “The notion that the kafala system can be abolished by no longer referring to a sponsor but an employer-employee relationship is utterly preposterous.” McGeehan’s statement captures the concern that many proponents of reform in Qatar face.

Is the government going to implement adequate change or attempt to shroud the issue with a simple name change?

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources:New York Times, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian