This changes everything: Out of FIFA’s turmoil comes a game plan to comply with commitment to respect human rights

ITUC Secretary General Sharan Burrow writes in the Huffington Post

When FIFA made a commitment to align itself with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, no one could imagine how the crisis-ridden organisation could deliver on that promise.

Into the gap between rhetoric and reality stepped John Ruggie, the Harvard Professor and former assistant secretary general at the United Nations, who developed the very principles which FIFA had committed to uphold.

An advisory contract between FIFA and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where Ruggie teaches, was agreed as FIFA’s top leadership were arrested or deposed and while thousands of workers who are building the 2022 World Cup facilities and infrastructure are virtually imprisoned in the slave state of Qatar.

Forced to live in squalor with poor quality food and often inadequate amounts of clean water workers in Qatar are paid poor wages and often not paid for months on end. No worker can leave an unsafe or abusive work environment or even exit the country without the employer’s permission.

FIFA knew all of this when it ignored alleged corruption in the voting practice and awarded the World Cup to Qatar. They didn’t care and for five years have ignored any responsibility for demanding an end to the Kafala system of modern slavery and for ensuring the respect for human and labour rights that the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights upholds.

FIFA stood by and watched the vital infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup including roads, rail lines, hotels, malls all be constructed or maintained by the use of men and some women who had no freedom, were denied fundamental rights and aretreated as less than human.

But today the report by John Ruggie for FIFA lays out their responsibility for respecting human rights.

Ruggie’s straight talking language which has brought together the sometimes incompatible world of business and human rights has defined for FIFA’s elected officials, staff and member organizations exactly what human rights means.

Internationally recognized human rights include rights to life and physical security, non- discrimination, rights to freedom of thought, expression and religion, freedom of assembly and of movement, rights to education and work, to family life and privacy, to food and water, freedoms from torture, slavery or forced labor, as well as rights to fair and decent working conditions, including freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively.”

This could change everything.

read the full article here

British Companies accused of human rights abuse in Qatar

British companies and their Qatar-based subsidiaries are accused of confiscating passports, switching contracts, providing overcrowded accommodation and using kafala to trap workers in abusive conditions.

That’s the finding of a new investigation by the Guardian‘s Pete Pattison, who’s been one of the most active journalists in exposing the terrible conditions faced by workers in Qatar in advance of the 2022 World Cup.

The report, which spoke to workers from BK Gulf, co-owned by Balfour Beatty, and Gulf Contracting Company (GCC), co-owned by Interserve, shows that conditions under the auspices of British companies are little or no better than those faced by the rest of the construction workforce.

Balfour Beatty is one of the UK’s most famous construction companies, having been involved in the Docklands Light Railway, the Channel Tunnel,  the Cardiff Bay Barrage and the current Crossrail project.  Interserve is highly visible in the UK, running many contracted-out public services.

Neither firm can work independently in Qatar, as local laws say companies must work in partnership with a local company that owns 51% of the business. This does not reduce their responsibility to take effective steps to ensure that no abuse of human rights is found in their sub-contracting arrangements.

Conditions of debt bondage – where workers have paid so much in fees to secure work and then paid so little that they have no choice but to keep working no matter what conditions they face – were reported, as well as exploitation of kafala (the sponsorship law which gives Employers power over their workers’ movements) to keep workers from leaving the country. Together, the two abuses throw up the severe risk that workers are suffering forced labour, for which Qatar has been referred to the International Labour Organisation and given a year to eradicate.

Both companies responded that they were inspecting their supply chains to ensure that standards were upheld, but given the ease with which The Guardian’s team uncovered transgressions it seems that British companies are little better than the Qatari authorities when it comes to making sure that workers are properly protected: not surprising when the workers themselves are only asked for their opinion when the journalists are in town.

UK companies have a responsibility under the OECD Guidance for Multinational Enterprises to respect the right of workers to form or join a trade union and to bargain collectively. Trade union membership for migrant workers is outlawed by Qatari law, but there’s nothing to stop companies consulting workers and allowing them a collective voice. It’s high time British companies started setting the standards needed to deliver change.

The Guardian has also released this video showing migrant workers being excluded from parts of Doha and turned away from Qatari “family areas” – a reminder than the mistreatment of workers is not just about how they might die, but how they live.

Amnesty International report finds abuse still rife as Qatar & FIFA make excuses

Amnesty International has poured cold water on Qatar’s claims to be protecting workers on FIFA World Cup projects, exposing a litany of abuses faced by people refitting the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha. As Amnesty put it: “For players and fans, a World Cup stadium is a place of dreams. For some of the workers who spoke to us, it can feel like a living nightmare.”

Furthermore, the report shows the unreasonable distinction Qatar is making between World Cup and “non-World Cup” projects.

The report, which looked at the experiences of two groups of workers over the course of the last year, finds that despite claims that World Cup workers were benefiting from special protection, the usual problems of squalid accommodation, passport confiscation, illegal recruitment fees and deceptive payment practices affected them whether working inside or outside a stadium construction site.

It also cites several examples of employers continuing to ruthlessly exploit the country’s restrictive kafala laws to trap workers in the country, including seven men working on the Khalifa Stadium denied the right to return to help their families in the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal. This exploitation is being used to force workers to accept whatever other abuse is thrown at them. One worker told the researchers he’d bravely asked to go home because he hadn’t been paid. “The manager screamed at me saying ‘keep working or you will never leave!’”

Amnesty’s report points out that any company who uses this power to deny freedom of movement, for whatever reason, is denying a worker their human rights, even if it accords with local laws.

Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, charged with the delivery of the World Cup, launched its Workers Welfare Standard to, essentially, protect workers from the inadequacy of the country’s own laws, but the same failures of enforcement are making the initiative ineffective as anything more than a PR exercise. For example, as the report says, “all of the accommodation of workers who had worked on the Khalifa Stadium … that was inspected by Amnesty International in 2015 was in clear breach of the Workers’ Welfare Standards.”  Despite this the Supreme Committee admits that “no World Cup contractor has been penalised for breaching the Welfare Standards.”

Failures by both the government of Qatar and the Supreme Committee to police their own standards and laws are compounded by the continuing restrictions on non-Qatari workers forming and joining trade unions. Qatar is essentially wedded to a top-down inspection system, excluding the voice of workers on the ground, while refusing to resource it with enough money, staff or political will to succeed.

Of course, many of the problems faced by these workers are illegal in Qatar, but the authorities remain “apathetic” in the face of the problem. Qatar repeatedly promises new laws to fix problems highlighted by its critics, but still hasn’t even managed to stop employers confiscating workers’ passports, something that has been illegal for years. In terms of kafala, the law needs to be completely abolished, not amended, so that employers have no power over their workers’ movements. Qatar has refused to consider this.

These proposed new laws have been Qatar’s key defence as it faces off against the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which visited the country earlier this year and also found workers stranded in the country, sometimes unpaid for months, as well as more evidence of passport confiscation and terrible living conditions. The ILO has given Qatar 12 months to meet demands for meaningful reform and proper enforcement. The ILO, a UN agency made up of governments, employers and worker representatives, sets international labour standards to which Qatar – as an ILO member – should conform, but of which the retention of kafala in particular puts it in breach.

“Workers covered by the Welfare Charter can exchange a friendly wave with those who are not”

Even if the Welfare Standards were to be better enforced, one of the other key findings of the report is the fine line between what counts as an official World Cup project (covered by the Standards) and what does not. One of Amnesty’s two groups of workers were preparing not the Khalifa Stadium, but the landscaped area right outside it, ludicrously denied official status. Qatar has been arguing about what constitutes World Cup construction with a pedant’s zeal for months, but it seems even the grounds surrounding an official venue are just too far away from the action for them, meaning that workers covered by the Welfare Charter can exchange a friendly wave with those who are not as they all prepare the country to host the competition. It also means that Qatar’s strident claims that no one has been killed on an official project needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

FIFA comes in for particular criticism for what the report describes as a total failure of due diligence – their responsibility to take steps to prevent abuse in the supply chain for their tournament. “FIFA’s continued failure to take any meaningful action on the issue of labour exploitation means that thousands of migrant workers involved in World Cup construction sites are at risk of exploitation,” says Amnesty, also calling on FIFA to start using its power to compel Qatar to remove employers’ control over workers’ moments to avoid the whole World Cup, and not just the construction, being riddled with human rights abuse.

FIFA has, as you might expect, rejected much of this criticism, claiming it “has been integrating human rights components in different aspects of its work, processes and activities for many years,” and conveniently ignoring the fact that whatever they were doing had demonstrably had very little impact on the experience of Qatar’s migrant workforce.

The report also demands that all companies working in Qatar, which includes some British companies, should follow a code of best practice rather than simply following Qatari law, including promising not to use kafala against their workers.

Despite the ILO investigation and the Amnesty Report showing the complete failure of Qatar’s legal system to protect workers and discourage abuse of their human rights, Qatar continues to cling to its cover story. Although professing “concern”, Qatar still insists “many of the points raised by Amnesty have already been addressed through recent legislative changes,” despite the report showing that legislation was having very little effect on the day to day lives of vulnerable workers.

Having laws is useless if they’re not enforced. It really is time for Qatar to play by the rules.

Amnesty has launched an online action to call on FIFA and its sponsors to take a tougher line in making Qatar act now to ensure the 2022 World Cup is not built on exploitation and misery.

This blog first appeared on Stronger Unions 

Family still waiting to hear truth of Qatar metro worker’s death

Cooperation between groups of workers, international unions and embassies is slowly opening up Qatar to scrutiny, but all we’re learning is the same old bad news.

When it comes to Qatar, and the fate of workers preparing the country to host the World Cup, there’s been a lot of talk about statistics. The ITUC believes 7,000 migrant workers – men of working age – will die in Qatar before the first ball is kicked. Qatar hits back by claiming that there have been no deaths on stadia, while at the same time doing everything it can to restrict access to the worksites and accommodation camps that we know have been claiming lives.

In the end though, it’s important to remember what those numbers refer to. People. Human beings with names. One of those was Juanito B. Pardillo.

Juanito, a construction worker employed digging tunnels for Doha’s new metro system, should have been celebrating his 38th birthday on March 8. Instead, his body was being prepared for repatriation back to his grieving family in the Philippines.

On 28 February, Juanito and his workmates were carrying out excavations. Press reports provide scant details, but apparently it was raining, and company policies state that tunnel work must stop in bad weather. However, for whatever reason, this didn’t happen. Juanito was killed in the cave-in that followed. Four of his workmates were injured.

Qatar then engaged in its usual secrecy. The name of the victim was not released by either the authorities or the company – QVCD, a partner to French contractor Vinci – with the information eventually coming through the press. An investigation into the death is supposedly being conducted, but two weeks after the accident officialdom remains quiet. Without the report, Juanito’s family have no hope of getting compensation, nor can real pressure be put on the company responsible to ensure other workers are safe.

The main part of Qatar’s metro rail scheme, like so much of their current infrastructure boom, was promised as part of their bid to FIFA for the World Cup and, also like much of the infrastructure, it appears that Qatar’s haste to have everything ready in advance of 2022 is leaving workers exposed to poor government health and safety inspection and flouted company regulations. The country’s PR machine has been desperate to downplay the human cost of the World Cup, focusing on the (officially, at least) positive health & safety record of the stadia themselves, but it cannot hide the dangerous reality for those getting the country ready for the tournament.

Workers in Qatar have begun the process of – very carefully, given Qatar’s hostility to its migrant labour force looking after itself – setting up support networks to share health and safety education and legal information. However, operating under Qatar’s restrictive laws, these networks can only do so much to challenge lazy employers or the notoriously slow labour courts.   Some embassies, notably that of the Philippines, are helping facilitate this process but, as Juanito’s case demonstrates, in the end Qatar still holds all the cards.

The BWI, the global union federation representing construction workers and responsible for the “Red Card for FIFA” campaign, is demanding urgent action not just from the government, but from Vinci as well, to assess the negligence of its partner company and take responsibility for compensating the family and preventing future tragedies. All western companies in Qatar must work with a local partner, making joint liability an inescapable moral requirement. BWI are also pressing QDVC to accept their inspectors on of all its worksites, which would be the first widespread trade union inspections of Qatar’s construction industry.

In the meanwhile, Juanito B. Pardillo’s family now have his body but still no formal news of why he died and whether anything will ever be done to hold those responsible to account.



Image © Shell

Qatar World Cup dream is a nightmare for workers

Photo ITUC/Matilde Gattoni

by Stephen Cavalier

I had heard a lot about the exploitation of the migrant workers building Qatar’s World Cup dream. But nothing prepared me for the shock of seeing it first hand on a UNITE delegation last week organised by Building Workers’ International (BWI – the global construction unions’ federation.)

Unions are banned in Qatar, but the BWI does fantastic work supporting migrant workers there, working with the workers themselves, support groups, embassies and other agencies to try to secure even the most basic rights afforded under Qatari law.

Our delegation, led by UNITE General Secretary Len McCluskey and including two Labour MPs, Ian Lavery and Naz Shah, saw this inspiring work in action. We also heard and saw the suffering caused by the exploitation of migrant workers and the conditions in which they work and live.

Qatar operates the kafala system which means that workers are tied to their ‘sponsor’ employer for a minimum of two years. Workers told us how they were recruited by agencies in their home country – the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal – paying huge sums to the agency which it would take them years of work to repay. They arrived in Qatar to find that their pay was even lower than they were promised. And, scandalously, they were paid different amounts depending on their home country and nationality, with Nepalese workers paid the least of all.

One group of workers told us how they had worked for more than four months before they received their first pay. Many told of us of the long hours: being collected in buses at 4am to be taken to construction sites in the punishing heat, not returning until 10pm at night. And returning in many cases to insanitary and overcrowded accommodation. In the dormitories of a labour camp near Al Khor, we spoke to the construction workers living 8 or 10 to a room, in bunk beds, with no privacy or means of hygiene, and saw cooking, washing and toilet facilities which no person should be forced to endure. Others told us of the dangerous conditions, long hours, poverty pay and of the accidents they had seen with colleagues crushed by equipment or collapsing from fatal exhaustion in the searing temperatures.

We also met women hospitality workers who had been forced to escape from their employers after suffering exploitation and physical abuse. They were being sheltered in a ‘safe house’ unable to work and with no pay. The kafala system means that they cannot leave their jobs, work for another employer or leave the country to go home unless their employer releases them, but they are bravely pursuing a case. These women were working in swanky hotels, owned by multi-national household names, yet suffering terrible exploitation.

All this in the richest country in the world. A country that wants to enhance its prestige through international sport: the World Cup 2022 secured in controversial circumstances; and similar controversy now around the World Athletics Championships. Everywhere we travelled in the gridlocked highways of Doha amongst the proliferating skyscrapers, adverts for international sporting events due to take place in this tiny desert country: tennis, cycling, the list goes on.

Yet the contradiction is that Qatar’s reputation is suffering – and deservedly so. Suffering not just from the circumstances in which these tournaments were secured, but suffering from the increasing international concern at the conditions endured by migrant workers.

Qatar is sensitive to this, which is why the higher-profile projects have better conditions. We saw a labour camp for workers building the metro system which was clean, well-ordered, with catering, washing, medical and welfare facilities and safety training and protection. Workers were still tied to the employer; there were still four men to a room; the hours were still long; the pay better but still poor. We were told that there were several delegations visiting this camp every day because these were the conditions that the authorities wished international visitors to see – not the conditions that we had seen the day before near Al Khor.

Yet that example shows that there is no reason why all workers cannot be employed and housed in better conditions. The money is there. The means are there. What is needed is continued international pressure. And pressure from international governments and agencies, including the UK.

And the work of unions. The international union campaign is hitting home. The Qatari government has been rocked by the powerful advocacy of the ITUC. The TUC here in the UK has led an effective campaign. And the BWI is doing great work internationally, in the countries where migrant workers originate, and in Qatar itself.

We saw this for ourselves when we met groups of workers with the BWI, saw the support and practical help they provide and, in my case in particular, when I was privileged to participate in a legal training seminar for volunteers supporting and representing their fellow Filipino workers who were suffering exploitation and hardship and seeking to enforce the limited rights available to them under the Qatari system.

There are two million migrant workers in Qatar, alongside the 250,000 Qatari population. We must do what we can to ensure that these abuses are highlighted and stopped by raising the issue in the media alongside our union colleagues and by pressure on FIFA, governments and international companies operating in Qatar.

Qatar’s reputation is almost as valuable to it as its oil – it will be built on sand if these abuses are not ended.

This post first appeared in Stronger Unions

Stephen Cavalier is Chief Executive of Thompsons Solicitors. He set up Thompsons’ Employment Rights unit in 1995, the first unit dedicated solely to trade union law. He is a past chair of the Industrial Law Society. 

New ITUC Report “Qatar: Profit and Loss” Workers Paying with Lives as Companies Extract Billions in Profit

A new report from the International Trade Union Confederation estimates that $15 billion profit will be made by companies working in Qatar on infrastructure for the controversial 2022 FIFA World Cup using up to 1.8 million migrant workers who are modern day slaves.

Read the report: Qatar: Profit and Loss. Counting the cost of modern day slavery in Qatar: What price freedom?

The report released on International Migrants Day is critical of Qatar for failing to deliver changes to labour rights or compliance, and warns construction companies, hotels, retail chains and UK and US Universities the cost of doing business in a slave state.

“Every CEO operating in Qatar is aware that their profits are driven by appallingly low wage levels – wages that are often based on a system of racial discrimination – and that these profits risk safety, resulting in indefensible workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation.

Using new data uncovered in Qatar’s own government statistics, the ITUC estimates 7,000 workers will die before a ball is kicked in the 2022 World Cup.

“Qatar still refuses to make public the actual death toll of migrant workers or the real causes of death. The vast majority of the workers are working to deliver the huge World Cup infrastructure programme by the 2022 deadline. By analysing Qatar’s own statistics and health reports over the past three years, previous reports of 4,000 workers dying by 2022 are a woeful underestimate. The real fatality rate is over 1,000 per year, meaning that 7,000 workers will die by 2022. Qatar hospital emergency departments are receiving 2,800 patients per day – 20% more from 2013 to 2014,” said Sharan Burrow.

Estimates for spending on infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup are as high as $220 billion, involving major international construction companies profiled in the ITUC report from Australia, Europe and the USA including ACS (Spain), Bechtel (USA), Besix (Belgium), Bouygues (France), Carillion (UK), CCC (Greece), Ch2M Hill (USA), CIMIC (Australia), Hochtief (Germany), Porr (Austria) and QDVC (France).

“This crisis goes beyond the borders of Qatar, involving companies across the world who are profiting from the kafala labour system which enslaves workers. The Khalifa Stadium project, a showcase World Cup venue, pays workers $1.50 an hour.
It is estimated that more than 40 percent of the world’s top 250 international construction contractors are participating in projects in Qatar. Shareholders with investments in fourteen different stock exchanges are exposed to the profits using modern day slavery under the kafala system,” said Sharan Burrow.

While the government continues to refuse legal reform, the ITUC is calling on companies there to:

  • Give workers exit visas immediately and without condition, and allow workers to transfer to another job;
  • Allow workers a collective voice to raise complaints and negotiate together with their employer;
  • Establish a single minimum living wage rate for all migrants;
  • In the absence of effective government labour inspection or a labour court, ensure fair and effective inspection, compliance and dispute resolution within their operations including subcontractors.

Since the ITUC released its special report The Case Against Qatar in March 2014, nothing has changed for workers in Qatar. The Government has failed to bring its laws in line with international standards and the much promised labour law, which will not come into effect until 2017, adds a new layer of repression for migrant workers.

“Qatar’s labour laws are ruinous for workers. All the government has done is to codify slavery. Employers can now even lend out workers to another employer without the workers consent for up to a year.”

The ITUC has called on the Qatar authorities to take immediate steps:

  • End the kafala system starting with the elimination of the exit visa;
  • Allow worker representation – a collective voice with elected representatives and workplace committees;
  • Employment contracts through direct employment or large, reputable, recruitment companies;
  • A national minimum wage for all workers, and collective bargaining rights;
  • Proper labour inspection and grievance mechanisms, inclusive of contractors, and an independent labour court.

The ITUC is also demanding that FIFA, which has failed to exert any real pressure on Qatar, to put workers’ rights at the centre of 2022 World Cup preparations.

Watch the ITUC multi-media investigation: Qatar Exposed

(this piece originally appeared on the ITUC news website)

Slave-state Qatar faces ILO investigation

Today, the UN’s workplace agency, the tripartite International Labour Organisation (ILO) voted to send a high level mission to Qatar to make an assessment of the real conditions faced by migrant workers: a major victory for the Playfair Qatar campaign. by Sam Gurney

Commenting after the vote, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The ILO has blown the whistle on Qatar’s time wasting. Qatar’s government policy of flatly denying the abuse of workers won’t cut it anymore: now there will be an independent investigation.

“Workers in Qatar need this investigation soon, while the pressure ahead of the 2022 World Cup is still on.

“We must continue to work together to ensure that Qatar delivers the rights its workers deserve and show it is fit to host a showcase for world football.”

On 12 June 2014 I was proud to be one of 12 worker delegates at the ILO’s international labour conference who signed a letter calling on the ILO to launch a formal commission of inquiry into the systematic non-observance of ILO conventions 29 on forced labour and 81 on labour inspection. Despite Qatar’s denials the situation for migrant workers in Qatar continues to be appalling and at each subsequent ILO governing body (GB) we called for the investigation to be launched. However, to our great frustration, we were blocked by governments including, shockingly, those like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh whose citizens are amongst those dying in their hundreds but who in the face of a massive Qatari lobbying campaign parrot the line that vast improvements have taken place.

Today we returned to the issue at the ILO governing body. In an attempt to break the deadlock, the workers group called only for a ‘high level tripartite mission’ (less emotive than a full commission) to go to Qatar to assess independently whether the government’s claims are true, with a view to considering whether a commission should be authorised at our next meeting in March. Our spokesperson, Belgian trade union leader Luc Cortebeeck, clearly set out the reasons why Qatari claims in no way matched reality as he said ‘nothing has changed and we are not fooled.’ His employer counterpart (whilst not really commenting on conditions in Qatar and giving its government some credit for ‘reforms’) did at least support the call for a high level investigatory mission.

Qatar then hit back, their minister of labour effectively claiming his country was a workers’ playground and trying to account for remaining issues by citing ‘Qatari specificities’ which needed to be preserved. A succession of governments praised the Qataris for having dealt with all the issues we had raised (on evidence ranging from thin to non-existent) and demanded the call for a commission in inquiry be dropped altogether. This roll of dishonour included; Sudan, Bahrain, India, Algeria, Venezuela, UAE, Iran, Turkey, Thailand, Pakistan, Chad, Jordan, Mauritania and Bangladesh. On the other side, the Dutch (on behalf of the EU), the US and Canadians supported our calls for a mission.

At the conclusion of the discussion the workers group took the decision to call for a formal vote. This has not happened on the ILO governing body since the early 2000s when a vote calling for a commission of inquiry on Colombia was lost. Decisions are usually taken by consensus or by a clear majority emerging following interventions; in this case it was decided that the situation was simply too serious to allow things to drag on, even without a clear majority in the discussion. The scale of the Qatari lobbying operation has been on show since the start of the GB last Monday, with teams of government officials circulating around the meeting, pulling representatives out for one-to-one chats.

At the request of a number of governments the vote was postponed till after lunch and their lobbying operation was stepped up to fever pitch. Fortunately, it was to no avail. Despite a last minute attempt by some governments, including Japan, to move the vote to Thursday (under the guise of finding a consensus, but in reality to provide more time for arm twisting) the vote was held with the call for actions – including the high-level mission – receiving the support of 35 members, with 13 against and 7 abstentions. I’m pleased to report that my UK government and employer counterparts voted enthusiastically for action on this case.

We will now see what happens next: the ILO cannot force the government of Qatar to accept the high level investigation, but if they refuse to allow it entry their claims to have resolved all the issues we highlighted in our original complaint will look even more threadbare. The wider campaign to support the rights of migrant workers in Qatar will continue to gather pace and now it will be supported by the actions called for by the ILO governing body.

And just in case anyone was in any doubt about the terrible situation in Qatar, the International Trade Union Confederation has recently launched a new website, Qatar Exposed, which draws together the stories of those affected by kafala and the appalling health and safety situation.

This blog originally appeared on Stronger Unions

Qatar Exposed

We’ll get this up on its own page eventually, but here’s the ITUC’s excellent interactive film archive of recent Qatar investigations, Qatar Exposed.

With Qatar restricting access to the country’s construction workforce and the labour camps they live in, it’s been difficult to learn about the conditions in the country. With the help of brave locals, the ITUC have managed to put together a series of short films showing what it’s really like to be a worker trapped by Qatar’s oppressive kafala work-sponsorship system. Tales of injury, poverty and tragic death show the terrible flipside of Qatar’s glitzy World Cup dream.

Rather than giving us one long film, Qatar Exposed is a collection of short pieces and interviews that you can navigate round in any order you want. There are over 20 stories, allowing you to appreciate not only the horror and sadness of some people’s experiences, but also the awful fact that these are fare from isolated cases.

Qatar wants us to check our facts – it’s time they let us #BAD2015

Next month Qatar has a chance to put its disputed record on workers’ rights to the test

When Zaha Hadid, architect of Qatar’s under-construction Al Wakrah football stadium, lashed out at the BBC last month, it exposed the increasingly frayed narrative thread of the 2022 World Cup and its controversial hosts. Clumsily accused on the Today programme of presiding over 1,200 deaths just on her stadium, Hadid railed against the line of questioning and insisted “there’s not a single problem in our stadium in Qatar…check your facts.” The BBC, apologising, kept its nerve enough to say “we are happy to accept there is no evidence of deaths at the main stadium site,” which is not quite the same as taking her word for it.

This, however, was sound and fury that signified nothing. Had Sarah Montague asked the right question – how do you feel about your involvement in a country which demonstrably allows the abuse of workers and has allowed hundreds to die since it won the right to host the tournament your stadium will be used in? – Hadid could still have retreated to her official position: no workers have died on my stadium, or on any other stadium: “Check your facts.”

Check your facts. The problem with this counter attack is that it asks the impossible. Qatar’s increasingly secretive approach to its problems means that checking whether workers really are suffering even on the high profile World Cup stadiums, let alone on the billions of pounds-worth of associated infrastructure necessary to host the tournament, is a difficult and potentially dangerous process. Qatar not only does not release official statistics on worker deaths, it barely even keeps any. To discover the detailed truth of what befalls construction workers from the 1.7million strong migrant population would involve on-the-ground research – something increasingly risky as Qatar’s security forces clamp down on media and human rights organisations’ attempts to speak to workers and see the conditions they face.

Qatar’s strategy appears to be clear: protest the country’s innocence against all charges and challenge their critics to prove wrong-doing, while controlling access to the “facts.” Anyone accusing Qatar’s labour laws of allowing death, destitution and desperation can be met with the same smug denial, “prove it!”, while throwing everything possible in the path of those trying to do so.

When British researchers Krishna Upadhyaya and Gundev Ghimire were arrested, it was days before Qatar admitted it had done so. Protestors outside Qatar’s London Embassy made it abundantly clear that the game was up, and shortly afterwards the government admitted having snatched them from the streets. After ten days in solitary confinement, and having had no access to a lawyer or diplomatic contact for most of that time, the men were freed. Krishna, once safely back in London, was able to describe what it was that Qatar had been so keen to hide. It is grimly amusing that Qatar terrorised these human rights campaigners in windowless cells because it was worried they were making the country look bad.

Qatar’s next strike was against the media, arresting and interrogating a German film crew before deleting the footage it had gathered. Then a BBC film crew, having been followed by the security services for days, found themselves locked up and facing hostile interrogation, again without legal or diplomatic assistance. Amnesty’s Gulf migration expert Mustafa Qadri openly suspects an attempt “to intimidate those who seek to expose labour abuse in Qatar”.

In these three cases all were safely released in the end, but they had the advantage of citizenship of important European states. Imagine how much more terrifying it must be for the workers who want to tell their stories, and for the locals that work bravely to put researchers in touch with them. We shouldn’t have to ask them to take these risks.

“If Qatar really is innocent, it’s like a man with an annual rail pass refusing to show it to a ticket inspector and just repeatedly shouting “I have a ticket!” very loudly until the transport police arrive.”

Qatar cannot be allowed to rebuff criticism while employing Cold War levels of paranoia and secrecy. If it really is, as it repeatedly claims, doing everything it could possibly be expected to do to live up to its international responsibilities to protect its workers, then its refusal to allow scrutiny makes no sense.  If Qatar really is innocent, this would be like a man with an annual rail pass refusing to show it to a ticket inspector and just repeatedly shouting “I have a ticket!” very loudly until the transport police arrive.

If this is all a terrible misunderstanding, then help is at hand! In November, the International Labour Organisation, the UN’s workers’ rights agency, will again discuss sending a high level mission to Qatar to find out what’s really happening. If Qatar is so proud of its track record, it should welcome the mission with open arms. Oddly enough Qatar has opposed the mission up to now and – somehow – managed to persuade enough foreign governments to do the same, including those of the very countries sending workers. Now is the time for it to embrace the offer as a chance to resolve this dispute definitively: the ILO says you’re doing good, we don’t have a campaign. The ILO says you’re doing bad, their experts will help you do good instead. What, exactly, is the downside?

This is too serious for this ridiculous charade to go on any longer. Thanks to reports like DLA Piper’s, and statistics from the Indian and Nepalese embassies, we know that death, injury, poverty, debt bondage, incarceration and physical abuse are a daily reality for thousands of workers denied the right to go home. And we know that Qatar has yet to enact one single reform to its system to deal with any of these things.

Qatar wants us to check our facts. We’re ready. Let us in.

Qatar’s worker reforms at end of rainbow disappear again

It’s slowly dawning on us, here at Playfair Qatar, that the Gulf state hasn’t really hired London’s Portland Communications to do its PR, but has in fact engaged Derren Brown. The latest disappearance of what appeared to be a tangible piece of legislation is certainly worthy of the master trickster, who once made someone believe the sun had disappeared.

Of course, we must make it clear that Mr Brown is not, and has never been in the employ of the Qatari government, but their strategy of mind games, distractions and sleight of hand is getting worthy of its own TV series. The latest grand deception involves a new law that keeps almost being introduced, and then disappears just as it is due to be implemented. The law, intended to compel companies to pay their workers electronically (and therefore make it easier to check that they have paid them at all) was originally slated to arrive earlier this year, then delayed to this week to give companies a chance to adapt. Now, just as it was to appear on Qatar’s books, it’s gone again, like the crock of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Not fussed? A law about electronic wages doesn’t seem like the biggest one to get excited about, and you’re right – it isn’t. But it was about the only helpful reform that genuinely appeared likely to turn up this year, and it was also a major plank of the country’s (somewhat unsuccessful) self-defence at the International Labour Organisation as it got criticised for allowing forced labour.

Add to that the Godot-like absence of the promised reform of kafala (the sponsorship law that turns workers into the property of their employers and keeps them trapped in the country) that has been just around the corner since early 2014, and it all adds up to a “will they / won’t they” storyline of such blatant teasing that it would make Moonlighting blush.

Mustafa Qadri, the Qatar specialist at Amnesty, suggests that Qatar is trying to buy some time. If that’s true, and with the World Cup still seven years away, we can probably expect to see more and more blatant baloney waved in front of us and then snatched away at the last minute.

With the 2022 hosts clearly intent on playing silly games while their construction workers suffer and die, attention has to turn back to FIFA to demand they intervene and force Qatar to keep its word. Unfortunately, it’s well known that FIFA has its own problems – that’s why we’re backing the ITUC‘s call for an independent reform commission into football’s international governance. New FIFA Now is hosting a petition calling on sponsors to demand such a commission – please sign, as the more pressure FIFA comes under, the more likely they are to take firm action on workers’ rights.

In the meanwhile, keep spreading the word. If Qatar is trying to outlast us, it will fail. Thousands of lives can still be saved if reforms are not only promised, but delivered and enforced. If you want to volunteer to help us get in touch via