Human Rights Watch says Gulf state needs to make pledge to stop abuses following global criticism in 2013
Authorities in Qatar have ignored warnings to reform its legal and regulatory system that facilitates forced labour, Human Rights Watch said in a new report on Tuesday.
The rights group urged Qatari officials to "set a positive example" and make reforms in 2014 following a international criticism over serious abuses of migrant workers last year.
Human Rights Watch said in January 2013 that without major reforms, the tens of thousands of migrant workers building infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup would face exploitation and misery.
Further allegations were made in 2013 of appalling living and working conditions and high death rates for migrant workers.
But despite mounting international criticism, the rights group said Qatari authorities "have given no indication they intend to carry out needed reforms".
“Qatar is in the spotlight over an issue that blights the Gulf region, and Qatari officials should see this as an opportunity to set a positive example,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“If Qatar seizes the opportunity, it will win international acclaim,” she added.
The Qatar situation forms part of the group's 667-page world report, which reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries.
Qatar has a population of about 2 million, of whom only 10 percent are Qatari citizens, according to official 2013 statistics. The number of foreign workers is expected to rise further with burgeoning construction demands.
The report said migrant workers are subject to a labour system that facilitates trafficking and forced labour. In contravention of Qatari law, workers often pay exorbitant recruitment fees and employers confiscate their passports.
The kafala (sponsorship) system ties a migrant worker’s legal status to a sponsoring employer, requiring workers to get an exit visa from that sponsor to leave the country. Qatar prohibits migrant workers from unionising or striking, and they face severe obstacles to seeking redress, the report said.
It added that migrant workers often live in cramped, unsanitary conditions, and many workers complain of excessive working hours and unpaid wages. Last year, UK newspaper The Guardian reported that between June 4 and August 8, 44 Nepalese workers died there, many from cardiac arrest and workplace accidents.
Human Rights Watch said domestic migrant workers, almost all women, are especially vulnerable to abuse. A regional unified contract for domestic workers, expected to be approved in 2014, falls well short of the minimum standards outlined in the International Labour Organisation Domestic Workers’ Convention.
In November, Francois Crepeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants told a news conference in Doha that living conditions of foreign workers tended to be poor, describing one compound he had visited as a "slum".
"This marks a stain on Qatar's reputation and is something that can be improved right away," he said.
Faced with the challenge of completing big construction and infrastructure projects before the World Cup, the Gulf state has an increasing number of its estimated 1.8 million foreigners working on projects related to football's showcase event.