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Qatar’s Inaction Replay

It’s a strange tactic to take the anniversary of a promise you didn’t keep to make exactly the same promise. One year ago, with great fanfare, Qatar’s government promised the world that kafala – their sponsorship system that essentially leaves workers owned by their employers – would be abolished as part of “far-reaching labour market reforms”. The promises were so vague that at the time that one critic dismissed it as “an announcement of announcement”. That leaves this week’s statement as a re-announcement of an announcement of an announcement.

Kafala is the bedrock of abuse in Qatar, where the ITUC estimates that more than 4,000 workers will die before the start of the 2022 World Cup. Although there are many other faults, and abolishing kafala would only begin the process of ending them, the sponsorship system overrides even those few rights that workers are supposedly entitled to. For as long as employers control people’s freedom to leave the country (as kafala allows them) they will always have all the power.

The re-announcement of the intention to abolish kafala comes with all the same flaws as last year – there’s no real timetable attached to the “promise” and it’s clear that the legislation is still being looked at by the body most likely to strike it down, the Shura council (which has strong business representation).  It doesn’t fully abolish the employer-controlled exit visa, and it would still be very difficult for workers to leave an abusive boss for a better one. Last year Amnesty International called the proposed kafala reforms a “missed opportunity”. This year it feels as though Qatar has been lining up an open goal for the past 12 months and has still managed to hit the post.

“Qatar is a regime intent on changing the subject rather than changing its rules.”

In that there is anything positive about today’s inaction replay it is solely that Qatar feels under enough pressure to at least pretend to be taking workers’ rights seriously, but the “avalanche of media disclosures that suggest massive violation of world soccer body FIFA’s bidding rules” as MideastSoccer blogger James Dorsey writes, suggests a regime intent on changing the subject rather than changing its rules.

There is no evidence that Qatar is serious about real change to protect the people preparing the country to host football’s premier tournament. Indeed to listen to Hassan Al-Thawadi speak, head of Qatar’s World Cup “Supreme Committee”, you would think everything was already fixed: “the… stadium projects that we are responsible for, there have been no fatalities and no major injuries as well.” He knows it will be some time before anyone can contradict him, as Qatar doesn’t care enough to keep records of migrant worker fatalities. The figures we work with come via the Indian and Nepalese governments, who at least keep track of the fate of their people.

If Qatar was serious about demonstrating improvements for migrant workers, it would surely welcome all independent scrutiny. In reality, Qatar seems to be prepared to go to great lengths to prevent anyone being able to confirm that those improvements exist.

At the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the UN Agency through which Employers, Workers and Governments negotiate international rights for workers, Qatar appears to have been engaged in a frenzied lobbying exercise to prevent it from sending observers to assess conditions for migrants.  Faced with an ILO vote on whether to send a four-person committee with a remit to see what was happening in the country, the Gulf state responded by claiming to have revolutionised health & safety and to be cracking down on employers breaking the law.

These claims were hotly contested, and Qatar’s failures were considered enough to unite even the USA and Russia in calling for further investigation, but some other governments – perversely including countries like Pakistan and India with large populations in Qatar – lined up in its defence.

As Sam Gurney, the UK’s Worker Representative on the ILO Governing Body, said:

“There was a sense of shock and outrage at the sight of representatives of countries, where people are dying every week, defending Qatar in the face of all available evidence and what they must know about the fate of their citizens.”

Having ensured that the international community was kept at arm’s length, Qatar has turned on the media. Today we learn that a TV crew:

…”From West German Broadcasting was arrested… during a shoot with workers in the Qatari capital Doha, then interrogated by the State Security, brought before the prosecution and released only after another 14 hours. … The camera equipment, laptops and personal mobile phones were confiscated and – contrary to other commitments given to the German Embassy in Qatar – returned only with a four-week delay. All data had been deleted and pieces of equipment damaged.”

(If you read German, there’s more here).

These are not the actions of the regime proud of its transformative record on workers’ rights, but of one terrified that it’s losing control. If Qatar wants to distract us from the ever-returning boomerang of corruption allegations, it should try – among other things – abolishing the kafala exit visa and allowing workers to join trade unions. That would get our full attention.

Instead, it’s hard to believe that we’re still to see any substantive reforms after years of promises. Qatar wants this contest to drift into extra time, but with 40 workers dying every month, we’re sick of the time-wasting. That’s why we’ll keep campaigning alongside football fans, like those from Chelsea Supporters’ Trust (above), and with unions and human rights organisations to force Qatar to give us more than words.

New PR strategy switched on as Qatar co-opts critics

Last year, Channel 4 ran an expose of a football blog called The Pressing Game. The blog, supposedly a grass-roots affair, had the odd celebrity contributor and a wide-ranging subject matter. C4 had noticed, however, that a recurring theme was cricism of anyone – from the FA to Gary Linekar – who had criticised Qatar’s custody of the 2022 World Cup tournament.

What they found was that The Pressing Game had been created by a communications company that had been retained by the Qatar government. Although one celebrity contributor, Alistair Campbell, defended the blog and accused Channel 4 of pursuing an “uber non-story”, just a few months later seems to have vanished off the face of the internet, which – it could be argued – is a teensy bit suspicious.

Perhaps Qatar’s PR targets have shifted from attacking their critics to co-opting them. We’ve noticed a Twitter rebuttal from Amnesty International’s Gulf migrant researcher Mustafa Qadri, recently returned from a research mission, against a couple of Qatar news outlets.  Starting with the “somewhat selective quoting” by MEED (formerly Middle East Economic Digest), Mr Qadri refuted the claim that he had suggested that “criticism of the treatment of workers in Qatar is unfair” but merely that some criticism of Qatar is “simplistic, stereotyped and unfair”, which may well be true. What he certainly didn’t say was that all  or even much criticism is unfair, and illustrated his point by setting the record straight via Doha News and unleashing a series of tweets blasting Qatar’s inaction…

…which sound a little bit like criticism to us.

So Mustafa’s 15k Twitter followers at least know the real situation; that didn’t then stop the Qatar Tribune from giving the strategy a second airing, their optimistically titled story “Amnesty hails Ministry of Interior’s human rights record” prompting further outrage from Amnesty’s man in the field.

Now, we have no indication that either of these acts of gross misrepresentation were part of an official strategy and they could just be editorial incompetence on the part of the particular publications, but Qatar’s PR operations don’t seem to lack gall. Hopefully Mr Qadri’s forceful corrections will make those responsible think twice before they try it again.

Fifa’s real crime with Qatar 2022 is ignoring the workers’ plight

The Independent’s Chief Football Correspondent, Sam Wallace, keeps the focus on the most important of the 2022 World Cup’s issues.

The BBC Newsnight team investigating the 1.5 million migrants employed in Qatar on building World Cup 2022 infrastructure were hustled out of the squalid workers’ accommodation outside Doha by angry security men in the time-honoured fashion in December. But not before they had made some disturbing connections between the dreadful conditions workers had to live in and one big British construction company in particular… [READ MORE]

Qatar asks for patience – to perfect its PR strategy

Qatar seems to be confused about what message to put out to its critics, simultaneously accusing them of a conspiracy whilst also meekly asking for more time to put an end to the abuse of migrant construction workers  – currently preparing the country to host the 2022 World Cup. However, with Qatar’s poor track record on delivering reform, only implementing real change will make us critics go away. Read more

Death toll among Qatar’s 2022 World Cup workers revealed

From the Guardian

By Owen Gibson & Pete Pattisson

Despite Qatar’s promises to improve conditions, Nepalese migrants have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014

“If fatalities among all migrants were taken into account the toll would almost certainly be more than one a day”

Nepalese migrants building the infrastructure to host the 2022 World Cup have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014 – despite Qatar’s promises to improve their working conditions, the Guardian has learned.

The figure excludes deaths of Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers READ MORE


Qatar 2022: Construction firms accused amid building boom

BBC Newsnight carried a superb piece on conditions in Qatar and international complicity in them. The iPlayer piece is (currently) here  Below is an article with an embedded, shorter, video.

By Sue Lloyd-Roberts

The 2022 Qatar World Cup is all about money.

Claims that millions of dollars were paid in bribes to secure the world’s biggest football tournament for Qatar refuse to go away.

Qatar is spending more than £200bn ($312bn) on a building bonanza ahead of the tournament.

Everyone seems to be getting rich, except those at the bottom of the human supply chain, the migrant worker. READ MORE


Nepali man jailed after employer lets Qatar residency lapse

(above: David Cameron on a recent visit to Qatar University)

From Doha news

“In an incident that once again calls the enforcement of Qatar’s labor laws into question, a Nepali hospitality worker at a local university has been jailed by police after his employer failed to provide him with a valid ID card.

His identification had expired, and was in the possession of the man’s company…”


Striking workers in Qatar find labour laws finally working – against them

If you ever needed proof of Qatar’s one-sided refereeing, this is it

The reason “Play by the Rules” is one of our ‘Playfair Qatar’ campaign demands is that Qatar could make life better for its 1.5m migrant workers so easily: it could apply the laws designed to protect them as rigorously as it applies the laws designed to control them. As the Gulf state crushes striking workers standing up for their rights, it’s time they cracked down on the real problems. READ MORE

Football Supporters’ Federation joins campaign

Our friends at the FSF have now publicly joined the campaign, and hosted this blog on their site.

Qatar 2022 has sparked a building frenzy in the world’s richest country with an estimated 1,100 workers dying during construction. Stephen Russell from the TUC’s Playfair Qatar explains what fans can do to make their concerns known about that and the country’s “kafala” system… – READ MORE