Human Rights

British PM Blasts Qatar After Report Estimates Thousands of World Cup Migrant Worker Deaths

A growing scandal over the treatment of laborers constructing facilities for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar reached the British Prime Ministership today, after an investigation published last week by The Guardian estimated that the work will eventually end up killing 4,000 migrant workers. David Cameron would like to see a change:

“My message is that they ought to insist on better,” Cameron told BBC Radio 5 Live. “We, in the Olympics, I think I’m right in saying, managed to build that entire Olympic Park with the best ever record on safety – no one dying during construction, keeping injuries to an absolute minimum. It can be done. The British construction industry we really can hold up as a good example to the rest of the world.”… The International Trade Union Confederation has warned that at least 4,000 migrant workers could die in the construction frenzy leading up to the 2022 World Cup, which will see at least $100bn (£60bn) spent on up to nine football stadiums, a new airport complete with a separate terminal for the Emir, a highway to Bahrain, a railway and metro network and 29 new hotels.

The recent Guardian report focused on Nepalese migrant workers who had died, and divulged details of a Nepalese embassy report detailing labor abuses, up to and including forced labor.

The issue of World Cup “slave” laborers in Qatar, however, is not new. Last January, Human Rights Watch warned that the 2022 World Cup was becoming “a crucible of exploitation and misery” for workers. More details reports on the issue were emerging as far back as April, with both U.S. and European outlets focusing on the issue.

The New York Times Sunday Review carried an article at the time by Richard Morin – a visiting scholar at Qatar University – describing practices ranging from shorting agreed-upon salary to denying food. Most of the workers operate under a so-called kafala sponsorship system, under which the employer governs every aspect of their lives. The employer may terminate the contract at any time, while the employee may not.

German-language Bild published its own account, which was picked up and partially translated by Yahoo Sports:

The foreign workers (mostly from Nepal and the Philippines) get a pittance of less than one euro per hour (78 cents), live in tiny rooms, some at 50 degrees [120 degrees Fahrenheit] without a working air conditioner. Often they cannot leave Qatar because their employers have taken their passports from them… [Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, said] “Qatar is a slave state. To build the infrastructure, more workers are likely to die than the 736 footballers who are playing at the World Cup.”

The selection of Qatar as World Cup host was itself controversial. Should the tournament take place in the summer – as is normal, but increasingly uncertain – conditions for players would be miserable. Observers are also concerned over the treatment of gay and Israeli fans, and those wishing to drink alcohol. Homosexuality and alcohol are banned on the peninsula, and Qatar has no relations with the Jewish state.

[Oren Kessler contributed to this report]

[Photo: RT / YouTube]