A soccer ball with images of migrant workers on the Qatar flag

Qatar must not drop the ball on workers’ rights

Qatar must strengthen enforcement of its labour reforms and end impunity for abusive employers if it is to fully deliver on its promises to protect workers’ rights, Amnesty International said today.

Since being awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar has faced increased scrutiny over its record on migrant workers’ rights. With two years to go until kick-off, Amnesty International has released a new analysis of Qatar’s progress on reforming its labour system. The organization welcomed recent reforms, but warned that the reality for many migrant workers will remain harsh unless further action is taken to guarantee wages, ensure access to justice, and protect domestic workers from exploitation.

“In recent years Qatar has introduced a series of major reforms, including amending laws to give workers freedom of movement and allow them greater job mobility. It has also promised better pay and access to justice in cases of abuse. But many migrant workers have not yet benefited from these changes. Until these reforms are fully enforced, many will remain trapped in a cycle of exploitation,” said Steve Cockburn, Head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International.

“Positive reforms have too often been undermined by weak implementation and an unwillingness to hold abusive employers to account. Inspection systems are inadequate to detect abuse, and it remains challenging for workers to lodge complaints without risking their income and legal status. Qatar needs to do much more to ensure legislation has a tangible impact on people’s lives.”

Since 2017, Qatar’s government has introduced a number of reforms aimed at benefiting migrant workers. These include a law regulating working hours for live-in domestic workers, labour tribunals to facilitate access to justice, a fund to support payment of unpaid wages, and a minimum wage.

Qatar has also abolished laws requiring migrant workers to seek their employers’ permission to change jobs or leave the country, and ratified two key international human rights treaties, albeit without recognising the right to join a trade union. If properly and fully implemented, these reforms could help end the most problematic aspects of the kafala sponsorship system and enable migrant workers to flee abusive working conditions and seek redress. However, thousands of workers continue to be subjected to labour abuses.

For example, a recent report by Amnesty International documented how domestic workers in Qatar continue to work around 16 hours a day with no day off, despite the introduction of a law stipulating a ten-hour limit and a weekly rest day. Women interviewed for the report described horrendous verbal and physical abuse, and none had seen their employers held to account.

In another investigation, Amnesty International documented how around 100 migrant workers employed on a construction project for a World Cup stadium worked for up to seven months without pay, despite the authorities being aware of the issues for nearly a year. Although most workers have now been paid most of what they owed following publication, the case highlighted continuing failures by both the Qatar authorities and FIFA to provide timely remedy to workers.

To address the persistent power imbalance between employers and migrant workers, and move closer to delivering on its commitments, Qatar needs to better implement current reforms and introduce further ones, strengthen inspection mechanisms to quickly detect and stop abuses, improve workers’ ability to access justice and remedy, end the culture of impunity for abusive employers, and respect the right of migrant workers to form trade unions. It should ensure a particular focus on strengthening protections for domestic workers, who have so far been left behind by many of the reforms.

“Holding perpetrators to account is paramount to end the cycle of abuse. Qatar must show abusive employers that their actions have consequences, by monitoring their adherence to laws and penalizing employers who break them. It’s time for Qatar to send a clear signal that labour abuses will not be tolerated,” said Steve Cockburn.

As the World Cup organizer, FIFA also has a responsibility to ensure human rights are respected in the context of preparing for and carrying out the tournament. This includes an obligation to hold its World Cup partners to account and use its clout to push Qatar to fully reform its labour system.

With this in mind, Amnesty International offices in more than 20 countries are writing to their national football associations urging them to play an active role in ensuring the rights of migrant workers. Football associations should call on FIFA to use its voice, privately and publicly, to urge the Qatar government to fulfil its programme of labour reforms before the World Cup kicks off.