I recently received an email from WALKFREE.ORG regarding steps they had taken to inform FIFA about incidences of modern day slavery in Qatar. WALKFREE.ORG added that they had sent over 172,000 messages to FIFA President Joseph 'Sepp' Blatter urging him to do something regarding the vice. The president responded to their plea by pledging to consult with the International Trade Union Confederation.
However, this pledge hasn't brought any change on the ground since recent reports indicate that peasant workers, particularly from Nepal and India, are dying in record numbers at construction sites where the World Cup stadiums are currently being built. So I decided to dig deeper and find out more.
First, I was shocked to realize that Qatar is not party to any internationally recognized human rights treaties. It is only party to treaties against discrimination, child abuse, gender discrimination, racial discrimination and inhuman torture. However, as a signatory to the UN Human Rights Council, Qatar is obligated to practice high standards in accordance with UN human rights. However, the allegations leveled against Qatar tend to contradict this principle. They include:
1) Confiscation of documents - Many workers have their rights and privileges stripped upon arrival. Passports and essential identification documents are taken by their employers to prevent them from leaving Qatar at their own will. This leaves the workers undocumented and automatically limits their movement. In addition, they become vulnerable to arrests by Qatar authorities due to lack of documented proof to verify their identities.
2) Withheld Pay/ Poor salaries - The deception of hyped pay is what has entrapped many peasant workers in Qatar. Many have complained of either being denied their pay for 6 or even 9 months while some are not getting paid at all. The workers also find terms and conditions abruptly changed and in effect, their salaries end up being lowered because they lack any say and have lost the will to fight for their rights. This powerlessness has left many with the psychological trauma of grappling with how their families back home will fend for themselves after not receiving money for months.
3) Overworking - With the employers having zero concern regarding the health and safety of workers, many are forced to work excessive hours contrary to the terms of the contract. This is because these desperate workers have no say in such matters.
4) Squalid Conditions - The workers are being given poor housing with no food, no electricity and poor sanitation. Some are even forced to sleep on the rooftops of their houses due to high Qatar summer temperatures and no air conditioning in their houses.
5) Threats, threats and more threats - Strictness of legal obligations is what has entrapped most workers in forced labour. For instance, many are constantly reminded by their domineering employers of the consequences awaiting them if they decide to leave. This includes lawful withholding of passports for breach of contract, denial of permission to leave Qatar and deliberate refusal to pay pending salaries.
The Human right violations I've discussed are just the tip of the iceberg. The wide range of reports I came across in my investigations have staggering detailed allegations. According to Amnesty International, Qatar's population growth rate is escalating at a phenomenal rate of 10.5 percent due to the mass immigration of peasant workers especially from South East Asia. Most of these workers end up in construction sites such as new airports, five star hotels, sophisticated metro systems and revamped sewage systems. Qatar currently plans to complete 12 stadiums at an estimated cost of $4Bn. This has definitely led to increased global scrutiny which has unearthed the slavery conditions that peasant workers go through. It's now up to FIFA president Sepp Blatter to find ways of materializing his pledge as he meets with FIFA officials in Switzerland this week.