A new report by the U.N., due to be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council this week, found that migrant workers in Qatar are subject to structural racial discrimination and exploitation under the prevailing kafala system in the country.
The kafala system of employment ties migrant workers to their employer and is notorious for leaving predominantly low-paid workers vulnerable to exploitation and modern slavery.
The report highlights that “immense power imbalances persist between employers and migrant workers […] many low-income workers are too afraid to seek justice for labour violations.”
Qatar has made reforms to the kafala system in recent years, notably removing the need for the majority of migrant workers to obtain exit visas.
However, investigations continue to reveal non-payment of wages, migrants forced to work under threat of wage deductions and abusive or unsafe working conditions.
Fifa, the international governing body of football, awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup and today, tens of thousands of the two million migrant workers in Qatar are working on construction projects linked to the international tournament.
The Guardian reports:
The report, by the UN’s special rapporteur for racism, Tendayi Achiume, is notable for its uncompromising language, saying a “de facto caste system based on national origin” exists in Qatar, “according to which European, North American, Australian and Arab nationalities systematically enjoy greater human rights protections than South Asian and sub-Saharan African nationalities”.
Workers who flee abusive employers are commonly referred to as”‘absconding”. Such a term, “points to the indentured or coercive labour conditions that are the reality for too many low-income workers in Qatar”, the special rapporteur says.
While the report notes some “impressive reforms”, particularly by the committee organising the World Cup in Qatar, it says that “serious challenges remain”. The Qatar government cancelled a visit by the UN special rapporteur on slavery, scheduled for January, soon after the preliminary findings of the report were published.
Fifa responded to the report but failed to detail any actions it would take to support migrant laborers and tackle the structural racism and exploitation underpinning the construction of World Cup projects.
Freedom United is urging Qatar to implement plans to abolish the kafala system and ensure all migrant workers in the country are protected from forced labor and exploitation. Join the campaign today.