Report by Amnesty International warns Qatar’s construction sector is ‘rife with abuse’ of workers


Qatar’s construction sector is “rife with abuse” of workers, raising fears workers could be exploited during construction of venues and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup, Amnesty International has said.

The human rights campaign group launched an extensive report cataloguing abuses within the Qatari construction sector in Doha yesterday, entitled ‘The Dark Side of Migration’ .

In the report, based on interviews with workers, employers and government officials, Amnesty claims many workers are suffering  “serious exploitation”, “widespread and routine abuse” and in some cases conditions “amounting to forced labour”.

Abuses documented by Amnesty include non-payment of wages, harsh and dangerous working conditions and “shocking” standards of accommodation.

Construction has not yet begun on schemes directly linked to the 2022 World Cup, but Amnesty said its findings raised fears workers on these projects “may be subjected to exploitation”.

The Amnesty report is a further blow to Qatar’s World Cup preparations, which have been hit by a FIFA corruption probe and controversy over plans to move the tournament from the summer to the winter.

The head of the Qatar 2022 supreme committee, Hassan Al Thawadi, told a press conference this weekend to launch designs for the 40,000-seater Al Wakrah stadium, that workers’ rights and conditions on Qatar 2022 construction projects would be protected.

He said the committee launched a workers’ charter in April that would “ensure the health, safety and dignity of workers.” He added: “Any number of deaths over zero is unacceptable.”

The contract to build the Zaha Hadid and Aecom-designed Al Wakrah stadium will be the first to incorporate contractual standards to enforce the workers’ charter, the supreme committee said.

But Sail Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, urged the Qatar government, FIFA, the Qatar 2022 organising committee and domestic and international companies working in Qatar to do more to end exploitation of workers.

He urged companies to “be proactive” and “not just take action when abuses are drawn to their attention”, adding: “Turning a blind eye to any form of exploitation is unforgivable, particularly when it is destroying people’s lives and livelihoods.”

UK firms Gardiner & Theobald, Arup, Zaha Hadid and EC Harris are all working on plans for Qatar World Cup 2022 venues and infrastructure, while dozens of other UK firms operate in the country.

Amnesty did not mention any UK firms in its report.

Shetty said the Qatar 2022 World Cup offered the Qatari government a “unique chance to demonstrate on a global stage that they are serious about their commitment to human rights” and become a “role model” for the region.

Qatar is experiencing mass migration of workers, at a rate of 20 an hour, mainly from south and south east Asia, to meet the demands of its booming construction sector.

Many of these migrant workers are recruited under Qatar’s ‘kafala’ system, whereby migrant workers are subjected to strict controls by their employer, or ‘sponsor’, leaving some workers unable to leave the country or change jobs without their employers’ permission.

Amnesty called for Qatar to overhaul the kafala system.

Amnesty researchers interviewed “dozens” of migrant construction workers employed under the kafala system who were prevented from leaving Qatar for many months by their employers.

One Nepalese worker told Amnesty: “Please tell me - is there a way out of here? … We are going totally mad.”

He said he had been unpaid for seven months and prevented from leaving Qatar for three months.

Amnesty said it found cases that constituted forced labour, where workers were “living in fear of losing everything”, threatened with penalty fines, deportation or loss of income if they did not turn up to work, even though they were not being paid.

Researchers also found workers who were suffering from severe psychological distress, with some on the brink of suicide.

Nepalese workers on one project - which Amnesty said was associated with FIFA’s planned Qatar 2022 World Cup headquarters - told researchers they were “treated like cattle” and required to work up to 12 hours a day seven days a week during Qatar’s searingly hot summer months.

Amnesty said there was a culture of violating labour standards in the Qatari construction sector and discriminatory attitudes towards migrant workers were “common”.

Amnesty said its researchers overheard one manager at a construction firm refer to the workers as “the animals”.

Qatar’s labour protection laws are not adequately enforced and are “routinely flouted” by companies, Amnesty said.

Many workers reported poor health and safety standards at work, while a representative at Doha’s main hospital told Amnesty earlier this year more than 1,000 people had been admitted to the trauma unit having suffered falls from height at work, with a “significant” mortality rate.

Amnesty researchers also found migrant workers living in “squalid, overcrowded accommodation” with no air conditioning, exposed to overflowing sewage or uncovered septic tanks.

Amnesty found migrant construction workers often work for SME subcontractors  that are sometimes not adequately vetted by companies further up the supply chain.

Amnesty said it contacted several major companies about its findings and some had carried out investigations as a result, while one company had tightened up its inspection regime.