Equidem Executive Director statement to the UK All Parties Parliamentary Group on Sport, Modern Slavery, and Human Rights

-- Equidem Executive Director statement to the UK All Parties Parliamentary Group on Sport, Modern Slavery, and Human Rights

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Tuesday, 19 June 2018

My name is Mustafa Qadri, I am a research fellow with the Institute for Human Rights and Business, and the Executive Director of Equidem, a human rights and labour rights investigations organisation. I am speaking today in a personal capacity, and not as a representative of either organisation.

I am the first and, as of writing, the only independent human rights investigator to uncover instances of forced labour involving migrant workers on Qatar 2022 World Cup sites. Over the last three years, I have interviewed close to two hundred individual migrant workers working on Qatar World Cup stadium sites. I have interviewed close to five hundred other individual migrant workers involved in projects directly associated with the World Cup, such as construction, infrastructure and hospitality projects that will be critical to the tournament.

My investigations into the conditions of 132 migrant workers involved in World Cup projects found:

  • squalid and cramped accommodation,
  • the payment of large fees to recruiters in their home country to get a job in Qatar,
  • being deceived as to the pay or type of work on offer,
  • not being paid for several months, creating significant financial and emotional pressures on workers already burdened with heavy debts,
  • employers not giving or renewing residence permits, leaving workers at risk of detention and deportation as “abscondees”
  • employers confiscating workers passports and not issuing exit permits so they could not leave the country, and
  • being threatened for complaining about their conditions.

Deepak (not his real name), a metal worker from Nepal employed on a site that will host one of the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2022, said to me: “My life here is like a prison. The work is difficult, we work for many hours in the hot sun. When I first complained about my situation, soon after arriving in Qatar, the manager said ‘if you [want to] complain you can but there will be consequences. If you want to stay in Qatar be quiet and keep working.”

Since my investigation of 2015, and perhaps because of it, there appear to have been improvements in the treatment of migrant workers on Qatar 2022 construction sites, particularly in relation to monitoring the regular payment of wages, living and site working conditions, and reimbursement for the payment of illegal recruitment fees, to name a few. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the state-funded body responsible for delivering World Cup sites, has a set of worker welfare standards that provide a higher level of protection to workers than exist under Qatar’s existing national laws. It has agreed to independent site inspections by the Building and Woodworkers International, and has engaged an expert human rights consultancy to carry out its external monitoring.

The Qatar government has also agreed to a package of labour reforms with the International Labour Organisation that would, if implemented, lead to the abolition of the kafala sponsorship labour system that binds migrant workers to a specific individual or organisation and creates an enabling environment for modern slavery and other exploitation. This is a welcome and potentially bold development, especially given the sobering human rights situation in the wider Arab Gulf and the Middle East.

But concerns exist. The Supreme Committee welfare standards cover only a tiny fraction, at most twenty or thirty thousand workers out of a total migrant worker population of two million. In fact, it does not currently include migrant workers outside the construction sites where tournament stadiums are being built or refurbished. It does not include any of the many thousands of workers building the railway system that will ferry football fans to venues, or the workers at the hotels where they will stay. It does not even cover the workers, such as the nearly one hundred I interviewed in 2015, who are responsible for growing the grass for tournament football pitches.

Qatar, like Russia, remains a tightly controlled society. There is limited space for independent civil society, and both workers and human rights defenders continue to live in fear of reprisals merely for lodging complaints about labour conditions. Under the agreement reached with the International Labour Organisation, workers are able to directly lodge complaints with the UN body which will assist the authorities to provide remedies. This is a very welcome development.

Qatar cannot effectively reform without the support and insights of civil society and a genuine will, on the part of stakeholders in Qatar, to confront the daunting task of respecting the rights of migrant workers in the country now and beyond 2022. We must be patient, but also uncompromising when it comes to ensuring respect for human rights. Only by acknowledging what is wrong, and what works, can we seek to respect human rights in the Qatar World Cup.

In view of the impact and opportunities posed by Mega Sporting Events, the Institute for Human Rights and Business facilitated the development of the Sporting Chance Principles on Human Rights in Mega-Sporting Events. The principles are the product of a multi-stakeholder coalition of international and intergovernmental organisations, governments, sports governing bodies, athletes, unions, sponsors, broadcasters, and civil society groups. Through dialogue and joint action our mission is to ensure all actors involved in staging an event fully embrace and operationalise their respective human rights duties and responsibilities.

I urge all of you who are concerned about the impact of mega sporting events on human rights to join this important initiative.