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Qatar’s Construction Issues: The Controversy Surrounding the 2022 World Cup

Qatar’s Winning Bid: The Controversy

When Qatar won the bidding process to host the World Cup, many were shocked given the country’s climate and attitude towards human rights (the threat of terrorism, the treatment of women and the fact that homosexuality is illegal being just a few of the concerns expressed). Qatar beat Australia, Japan, South Korea and America to win the bid, with The Guardian reporting that Alexi Lalas, former USA captain, described the decision as “political craziness”. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, there were also suggestions that corruption and bribery may have played a part, however after an investigation Qatar was cleared of any wrongdoing. However, in 2015 certain senior members of FIFA were indeed found to have been taking bribes, although this didn’t effect Qatar and preparation for the 2022 World Cup continued.

While corruption and bribery may still be in the back of some people’s mind, what is being pushed to the forefront now is the treatment of the migrant workers Qatar is using for construction work. An article on bbc.co.uk in June 2015 looked at the claims that 1,200 migrant workers had died during the construction work for the World Cup. It said there were an estimated 1.4 million migrant workers in Qatar, and also cited information from a report – The Case Against Qatar – conducted by the International Trades Union Confederation (ITUC), which spoke to the embassies in Nepal and India where the article said approximately 60% of Qatar’s migrant works are from: “Those embassies had counted more than 400 deaths a year between them- a total of 1,239 deaths in the three years to the end of 2013.”

“The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game”: Amnesty International Investigates

Leading human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has published several documents on the mistreatment and abuse of migrant workers in Qatar since late 2013, with their latest report – The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game: Exploitation on a Qatar 2022 World Cup Site – focussing on the migrant workers renovating the Khalifa International Stadium between February 2015 and February 2016.

The report explains how migrant workers must have a sponsor, who is also their employer, to work in Qatar, and the only way they can leave the country or change jobs is with the permission of this sponsor; this also means if the sponsor withdraws their sponsorship, the worker can be deported immediately without any say.

The report also goes on to describe how migrant workers are deceived prior to arriving: “Many of the migrant workers who spoke to Amnesty International reported arriving in Qatar to find that the terms and conditions of their work were different from those that they had been promised by recruiters in their home country. The main form of deception that workers reported was with regard to salary. All but six of the 234 men interviewed told Amnesty International that, on arrival in Qatar, they learned that their salaries would be lower than the amount they were promised. Deceptive recruitment practices increase workers’ vulnerability to trafficking for labour exploitation and forced labour. Having paid fees and, in many cases, taken on debt to move to Qatar they felt they had no option but to accept the lower salaries, although many were then left in very difficult situations, struggling to repay loans with less money than expected.”

One of the companies Amnesty looked at in detail was Eversendai, who were awarded a contract for the Khalifa Stadium in August 2014. One male worker, whose name was changed to protect him, told Amnesty, “the company manager who took me to the camp asked for my passport. He told me to sign a paper but he did not explain what it was and I could not read… I haven’t seen my passport since.”

The Amnesty report also detailed the substandard accommodation the workers employed by Eversendai, both directly and via sub-contractors, were forced to live in. They visited labour camp Al Wakrah in May 2015, describing the conditions as “extremely poor, over-crowded and unhygienic.”

The sub-contractors named in the report which were used by Eversendai were Seven Hills and Blue Bay, and workers employed by them gave similar details to Amnesty regarding the promises they were made, their pay and their accommodation. While compiling the report on the Khalifa Stadium, Amnesty states they spoke to 51 men who worked for Seven Hills, and 24 men employed by Blue Bay, however Eversendai said that only 21 men from Seven Hills worked between October 2014 and June 2015, while there were only 14 men from Blue Bay working on Khalifa for one month in late 2014.

Eversendai’s Response

As part of their investigation, Amnesty put their findings to Eversendai. Workers Welfare Standards does state that companies have to supply a safe and secure place to store worker’s documents and that workers can request their passports back in writing. Therefore, Amnesty asked “whether each worker requested, on their own initiative, in writing, that the company hold their passports, or whether the company asked each employee to sign a document that gave the company permission to hold their passport. Eversendai said workers were offered the option to let the company hold their passports. In a letter dated 5 March 2016 the company told Amnesty International that it has now returned passports to migrant workers.”

In response to the accommodation claims, Eversendai said that they moved the workers who were directly employed by the company to Barwa Al Baraha, “a new camp with relatively good facilities”, and Amnesty confirmed that these workers had been moved in mid-2015, although this was only after an inspection by Eversendai’s main contractor Midmac-Six Construct JV in January 2015, an inspection Amnesty was only told about, but never received a copy of.

Regarding Seven Hills and Blue Bay, Amnesty asked Eversendai what checks they had done to ensure that both sub-contractors’ business practices and workforce treatment met with Qatar’s laws and the Workers Welfare Standards, however, despite receiving two letters from Eversendai, neither showed that any checks had been done before giving the contracts to Seven Hills and Blue Bay.

Amnesty also stated that, “Eversendai conceded that it had found certain shortcomings with respect to the accommodation of subcontracted workers”, and they were moved to the accommodation being used by Eversendai’s direct workers. Seven Hills workers were being housed in Al Wakrah, close to Eversendai’s initial accommodation before workers were moved in mid-2015. However, Amnesty reports that in May 2015 they met with men working for Seven Hills, some of whom were still working on the Khalifa Stadium, and they were still living in Al Wakrah.

Following the publication of Amnesty’s report, Eversendai defended themselves, with arabianbusiness.com reporting that the company said they “only held workers’ passports if the specifically requested that we do so for safekeeping”, a claim that directly opposes what the worker Amnesty spoke to said.

Regarding the accommodation, Eversendai admitted, “Whilst there have been some shortcomings in our workers’ accommodation in other areas in the past, this matter has been rectified in the middle of 2015 and is now in compliance with the Workers Welfare Standards”. However, they denied housing their workers at Al Wakrah, describing the suggestion as “completely unfounded”.

They also confirmed that while they used both Seven Hills and Blue Bay, they claim to have “stopped dealing with both companies months before Amnesty International’s report was published.” Eversendai also said: “We are certain that our practices and procedures are compliant with the laws of Qatar, and where appropriate, with Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy for the 2022 FIFA World Cup’s Workers’ Welfare Standards.”

Independent Company Brought in to Monitor Worker Welfare

In early April 2016, arabianbusiness.com published an article that the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the organisation responsible for the delivery of the 2022 World Cup, had employed an independent third party, Impactt Ltd, to monitor the recruitment, employment, accommodation and working conditions of anyone employed to work on World Cup projects.

The article also reported that the Workers Welfare Unit, together with stakeholders including FIFA and contractors, had revised standards for workers, and that they are currently being implemented, something Impactt Ltd would be monitoring.

Too Little Too Late?

The evidence seems damning- these people are lured from their homes with false promises, only to then be held against their will, and forced to work and live in appalling conditions. While it has taken nearly six years after winning the World Cup bid, changes are being made, and with organisations like Amnesty International making a point of investigating and reporting their findings, Qatar as a country and FIFA as an organisation cannot continue to ignore them. On the 14 April 2016, guardian.com published an article by Owen Gibson about an independent report that was commissioned by world football’s governing body into its human rights responsibilities and written by Professor John Ruggie.

In this report, Ruggie commends FIFA for beginning to take action, however, says that now more must done. In late March 2016, guardian.com reported that The International Labour Organisation has given Qatar 12 months to put an end to the exploitation of its migrant workers, or they will face investigation by the UN, and the Gibsen’s article states the Ruggie believes that if this is not met, Qatar should also lose the right to host the World Cup.

Ruggie says that way people are treated, as well the other areas usually taken into consideration by FIFA, must be at the forefront of decisions on where all future sporting fixtures are held: “What is required is a cultural shift that must affect everything Fifa does and how it does it.”

This article was first published by Plant Locator Online. See more at https://www.plantlocator.co.uk/plant-sales/2016/04/19/qatars-construction-issues-controversy-surrounding-2022-world-cup/ 

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