Human rights groups used the May 1 Labor Day occasion to raise the issue of workers’ rights with the Qatari government, according to a report in The Guardian, and reported that the government was at least open to discussing the issue. Thousands of migrant workers form the backbone of the unprecedented infrastructure projects currently ongoing in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. Qatari Labour and Social Affairs Minister Abdullah al-Khulaifi agreed to discuss reforms, appealing to “our religion” and its demand to “treat workers in a humane way, and not to task them with unbearable jobs… most importantly, to pay them.”
The latest statistics place the death rate of migrant workers in Qatar at one per day. More than 430 Nepalese workers and 567 Indian workers have died since January 2012.
Among the most problematic situations in Qatar is the exit-visa system, which allows employers to vouch for foreigners, allowing them into the country, but requires that employers give their new workers permission to leave the country. This, according to Amnesty International’s head of global issues, Audrey Gaughran, is a “blatant human rights violation” that renders many workers essentially hostage to their employers.
Male laborers working construction projects are not the only victims of Qatar’s questionable exit-visa system. A new report released by Amnesty International this month focuses on the plight of female migrant workers. According to Al Jazeera, the report highlights instances in which women report being “slapped, pulled by the hair, poked in the eyes, and kicked down the stairs by their employers” and raped. Some women reported working “up to 100 hours a week.”
The human rights violations committed under the purview of the Qatari government have been a blight on FIFA’s decision to grant hosting privileges to the nation since the plan’s inception. A New York Times exposé in January detailed that the nation’s population is made up of 90% migrant workers, and that these must work hours that have proven lethal to many, while others are denied their wages until they starve to death.
FIFA has come under fire for both their decision to grant Qatar hosting privileges and their reaction to the human rights abuses being committed on behalf of their organization. FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke reacted initially to concerns of totalitarianism by claiming that one reason Qatar won was because “less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup.” Objections to laws against LGBT individuals in the nation led to FIFA head Sepp Blatter offhandedly joking that World Cup attendees “refrain from any sexual activities” while in Qatar. An investigation by the UK Telegraph also found that there was a high likelihood that the nation bribed former FIFA officials into voting in favor of their country winning the World Cup for 2022.