Jeremy Stahl watched ESPN’s E:60 documentary on Qatar’s World Cup preparations and is appropriately outraged. According to one source in the documentary:
Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, is quoted in the ESPN documentary as saying that at current rates, 4,000 people will die to make the 2022 World Cup a reality. A March ITUC report said that 1,200 migrants have already died in the four years since the tiny, oil-rich Gulf State was awarded the World Cup in a shady and stunning decision …
All of these abuses are possible because of the nation’s kafala employment system, which has been aptly described as modern-day slavery. Through kafala, employers are allowed to confiscate a migrant’s passport and withhold exit visas, effectively preventing that person from leaving the country.
Qatar claimed as recently as this Tuesday that not a single person had died while doing work for the World Cup. The contention rests on the fact that the hundreds who have died on infrastructure and construction efforts were working on “non-World Cup projects.” Despite these assertions, Qatar and FIFA seem to have realized that a humanitarian crisis of this scale is disastrous, at the very least from a publicity standpoint. On Wednesday, Qatar announced reforms intended to abolish the worst provision of kafala, specifically the one tying workers’ exit visas to employers.
Christa Case Bryant takes a closer look at the reforms announced this week:
Because the new worker guidelines apply only to World Cup sites, and stadium work is still in the very beginning stages, less than 200 workers are governed by those standards. But Farah al-Muftah, chairwoman of the Supreme Committee’s Workers’ Welfare Committee, says meetings are now under way to establish common standards that would be more broadly applied. “By us going for unified worker welfare standards, you’re covering a huge majority of workers involved in the building of World Cup sites and the country’s infrastructure,” she says.
The Qatar Foundation, which is building another one of the stadiums and was previously involved in major projects such as Georgetown’s campus here, has also been pioneering new standards and inspection regimens. “There’s an acceleration of evidence that this is being taken very seriously,” says Gerd Nonneman, dean of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar, whose campus was built without a single casualty.
Nathalie Olah notes that the entire oil-fueled Gulf construction boom has had a tremendous human cost, borne mainly by these South Asian laborers:
Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record is notoriously lousy. Since November of last year, it’s been reported that 250,000 migrant workers in the country have been arrested and deported under the violation of labor and residency laws, even though “these restrictive laws are part of a labor system that leads to rampant human rights abuses.” In February, Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to address the issue with King Abdullah during his March visit. Nobody seems to have heard anything since, so I’m assuming he ignored that envelope.
In a series of interviews that the NGO carried out with those who’d been detained and forced to leave the country, they discovered that migrant workers—consisting, in the most part, of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Nepalese people—had also been deprived of food and water. However, due to limits imposed by the government, it is almost impossible to access those living and working inside the country.