Qatar has been slammed as a "21st-century slave state" by a leading trade unionist over its allegedly poor conditions for guest workers and human rights abuses, as the wealthy Gulf state gears up to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Speaking to Greek leftist newspaper Avgi, International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary Sharan Burrow claimed that "more labourers will die in Qatar during construction than the footballers who step on the pitch", AFP reported.
Oil and gas-rich Qatar will spend up to US$130bn on hosting the summer football tournament, a recent report by KFH-Research said, including US$35bn on a new metro transport network and US$7bn on a new sea port, as well as several new stadia. The work will rely on importing thousands of overseas labourers, predominantly from countries in South Asia including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
“The way Qatar takes advantage of migrant workers is a disgrace to football,” Burrow told the newspaper. She claimed that 191 Nepali workers died in Qatar in 2010, most of them because of heart attacks caused by outdoor temperatures rising to up to 50 degrees Celsius.
"They work at risk of heart attacks and dehydration... many die at night from heat strokes” said Burrow, adding that many migrant workers are unable to leave the country as employers often confiscate their passports. Burrow called on contractors to be held accountable for working conditions.
At the end of last year, the International Trade Union Confederation said it was ready to organise a boycott of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar if no significant improvements on migrant worker conditions are going to be introduced.
The decision of FIFA to award the 2022 tournament to Qatar, the world's richest country in terms of GDP per capita, has caused considerable controversy not just because of concerns over human rights in the tiny Gulf state.
Qatar beat bids by the US and South Korea to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup. But the decision to allow the Gulf state to host the tournament has drawn criticism over issues ranging from searing summer temperatures in the Gulf country, to alcohol sales.
FIFA is under growing pressure to reverse the decision amid doubts about Qatar’s ability to reduce the temperatures during the matches.
The awarding of the tournament to Qatar has also been mired in allegations of corruption in the bidding process, albeit all claims are unproven.
French Football magazine earlier this month alleged former French president Nicolas Sarkozy “colluded” with football’s governing body to award Qatar the rights to host the tournament. The magazine detailed a November 2010 dinner at the Elysée Palace involving Sarkozy, European football chief Michel Platini and the Crown Prince of Qatar.