The Guardian has released a scathing investigation regarding labor conditions in Qatar. The report has gone as far as to call conditions appalling, and has accused the Qatari government of essentially running forced labor camps. Now, FIFA officials are trying to deflect blame as the Qatari government has promised to investigate claims.
Working conditions have long been a sore spot for international labor activists across the globe. While the Middle East is rich in oil, it’s short on people. Many countries possess small native populations, which has allowed some governments, such as Qatar, to set up vast luxury “welfare” systems to ensure that people are able to lead easy, productive lives.
Few citizens want to engage in arduous work
It also means that few citizens want to engage in arduous work, such as construction. And even if some citizens did want to, the population for many Middle Eastern countries would be far too small to muster up the necessary workforce. As a result, countries such as Qatar often rely on importing foreign laborers for construction and other manual labor jobs.
Indeed, the shiny skyscrapers of Dubai and other major Middle East cities have been built almost entirely on the banks of imported laborers from poor third world countries. In theory, this should be a win-win situation. Middle Eastern countries gain access to low-cost labor, individuals from poorer countries gain access to higher paying jobs.
Working conditions in the Middle East are horrid
Labor activists claim, however, that working conditions in the Middle East are horrid and some labor camps amount to modern day slavery. A complex network of agents often deliver workers from India, Nepal, and elsewhere. Often, these agents make false promises to prospective employees, promising higher wages and better working conditions than workers will actually receive.
Activists claim that once the workers get to the Middle East, their plight is often just beginning. Often, they are indebted to the agent and company for airplane tickets. Many find themselves forced to pay high rent and food prices at labor camps, even after being told that such things will be supplied for free. In some cases, workers leave work camps as broke as when they came, with years of their life lost.
Now, the Guardian claims that the death toll from horrid working conditions is mounting, with at least 44 people dead from June to August of this year. Most of the deaths are being caused by heart failure, with young healthy men literally dying of heart attacks on the job. If conditions do not improve rapidly, as many as four thousand people could die during the construction of stadiums and other key pieces of infrastructure necessary to host the World Cup.
Nepali and other foreign workers are essentially trapped in Qatar
Meanwhile, Nepali workers have claimed that their passports are being confiscated and wages withheld. Without passports, Nepali and other foreign workers are essentially trapped in Qatar, unable to return home. Withholding passports is a common tactic used in the Middle East and elsewhere to ensure workers remain on the job.
Many workers are claiming that they must bunk 12 to a room and lack access to adequate bathroom facilities. Some workers have claimed that they are being denied access to food and often must resort to begging, or else go to work on an empty stomach. This is further complicated by held wages. In some cases, workers are even reporting being denied access to free water. With temperatures soaring above 100 degrees, access to water can often mean life or death for laborers.
Qatari government has promised to respond to allegations
The Qatari government has promised to respond to allegations and has stated that ensuring the safety of workers in a priority. Meanwhile, World Cup officials have denounced the treatment of workers and have claimed that they are appalled by working and living conditions. Undoubtedly, using modern day slavery to build World Cup facilities would tarnish the organization’s reputation.