Migrant workers in Qatar are treated like “cattle” in some cases, a report by Amnesty International said, with the Gulf state’s construction sector rife with abuse as it begins work on the stadia that will host the FIFA 2022 World Cup.
The lobbyist group’s report, The Dark Side of Migration, found that workers on multi-million dollar projects suffered from serious exploitation, which at times amounted to forced labour.
"It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world, that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive," said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International.
The investigation, based on interviews with workers, employers and government officials, discovered abuses including non-payment of wages, dangerous working conditions and shocking standards of accommodation. Amnesty also spoke to dozens of workers who had been prevented from leaving the country by employers for months.
Workers that suffered from abuses included those employed by subcontractors for global companies, including Qatar Petroleum, Hyundai E&C and OHL Construction, the report claimed.
Amnesty blamed the abuses on poor enforcement of existing labour regulations by authorities. "Construction companies and the Qatari authorities alike are failing migrant workers. Employers in Qatar have displayed an appalling disregard for the basic human rights of migrant workers. Many are taking advantage of a permissive environment and lax enforcement of labour protections to exploit construction workers," Shetty added.
The report also found a broadly discriminatory attitude towards foreign workers, many of them low-paid labourers from South Asia, with researchers overhearing one construction firm manager referring to them as “the animals”. Another Nepali worker said they were “treated like cattle”.
Amnesty has previously called for Qatar to overhaul its labour sponsorship system, which effectively ties the residency status of workers in the country to their employer.
The group called on football world governing body FIFA to work with Qatar ahead of the World Cup 2022 to prevent abuses. Qatar is expected to spend up to $200bn on construction and infrastructure ahead of the event, increasing its dependence on foreign blue collar workers.
"Our findings indicate an alarming level of exploitation in the construction sector in Qatar. FIFA has a duty to send a strong public message that it will not tolerate human rights abuses on construction projects related to the World Cup," Shetty continued. “Many migrants arrive in Qatar full of hopes, only to have these crushed soon after they arrive. There’s no time to delay - the government must act now to end this abuse."