Pressure continues on Qatar over slavery

The Guardian has followed up last week’s exposé about the appalling treatment of migrant labourers working on Qatar 2022 construction projects, by reporting on the growing international pressure coming to bear on the Gulf state.

Ahead of FIFA’s two-day Exco meeting to discuss the Qatar World Cup, victims’ groups, the United Nations and politicians have all urged football’s governing body to act to halt the death toll.

Representatives of the families of migrant workers already killed and injured on building sites called on FIFA to award the tournament to another country, unless the Doha can guarantee worker safety.

Ramesh Badal, a lawyer in Kathmandu who represents Nepalese workers victimised in Qatar, demanded that FIFA place a deadline on Qatar by which it must prevent deaths and labour abuses.

“If FIFA applies pressure on Qatar now, then they will definitely change,” he said. “This is now in the hands of FIFA.”

The British sports minister, Robertson, told the Guardian: “I absolutely believe sports events should be spread around the world but one of the important consequences of doing that is that those countries that receive them should comply with the basic minimum standards of care.”

The United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO) called on FIFA to use the influence of the world’s most popular sport to demand improvements in labour practices in Qatar.

“FIFA’s power of persuasion is very big, bigger than the ILO, and they should use their influence,” said Nada al-Nashif, the ILO director for the Arab states. “If they do that we can have a safe and happy lead-up to 2022. A lot hangs in the balance. We mustn’t just make a few declarations and move on.”

One Nepalese worker, Bhupendra Malla Thakuri, told the Guardian he was hospitalised for three months after a truck crushed his leg and he was paid nothing for all that time, was left without adequate medical support and was forced to take his employer to court to even afford a plane ticket home.

“When I was discharged … the company only paid me for the 20-odd days I had worked that month but nothing more,” he said. “They didn’t give me my salary. They didn’t give me anything. It was a very critical situation. I was injured and my leg had become septic.”

He added: “The failure to pay workers regularly is traumatising some of them.”

It is worth putting this shocking treatment of the workforce into some kind of economic context. Qatar is officially the wealthiest country in the world per capita. Approximately 14% of households are dollar millionaires. How, you may be wondering does it manage to sustain such wealth across its population? Well, you won’t be too surprised to learn that it relies heavily on foreign labor to grow its economy, to the extent that migrant workers comprise 94% of the workforce.

Qatar’s per capita GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP) was $106,000 in 2012. Luxembourg came a distant second with nearly $80,000 and Singapore third with per capita income of about $61,000. This is a seriously wealthy country, one which does not have national occupational health standards, and workplace injuries are the third highest cause of accidental deaths.

FIFA, Sepp Blatter is fond of telling us, is a force for good in the world. Now, he has the opportunity to prove it.