World Cup Qatar: festivities built on slavery

Dohar Foorball stadium - brought to you by forced labour

My latest piece I wrote for Freedom magazine, published in the October issue. On migrant workers' conditions in Qatar, where the World Cup of 2022 is supposed to be held. Basically the original version, but with a few small corrections.

One of the Arab countries apparently almost untouched by the Arab Spring is Qatar. The tide of protest and revolt more or less passed this Emirate by. The main news channel spreading attention to these events, Aljazeera, is Qatari-baed and regime-owned, which does not help to raise attention to what happens there. But even without willful media neglect, not much news would come out of there – because nothing much spectacular is happening there.

This is changing, and the reason is sports. The country will host the 2012 football World Cup, ten years from now. Ten years of frantic commercial building, investing in sportst accomodation and facillities. Who will do all this building? Not the Emir and his family. Not the Qatari citizens: they are a relatively affluent minority in the country, with limited civil rights, and a welfare system funded by Qatar's abundant oil riches. The rest are migrant workers, 94 percent of the labour force of Qatar. These migrants – plus a million more to be recruited - are going to build the stadiums, the sports facilities, the accomodation for the football extravaganza.

These migrant workers, mainly from SouthAsia, live and work under terrible circumstances of exploitation and neglect. Under a system of sponsorship, the power to chane jobs belongs to the companies these labourers work for. These sponsors decide whether the worker can leave the country, by witholding passports of migrants. Before a migrant even enters, he or she often has paid high recriutment fees, from several hundreds up to a few thousand dollars. They have to pay them back from their low wages, which means debt.

Sponsorship, and therefore company control, combined with recruitment-induced debt, means that migrants are forced into working and living conditions amounting to forced labour. Abuse, beatings, sexual assault is the natural product of such a system of almost absolute employers' control, which also sees the non-payment of wages and horrendous housing conditions in prison-like barracks. A modern-day commercial sport event is being prepared by modern-day slavery. Reading a Human Rights Watch report, or seeing video reports by Equal Times, an NGO, makes clear how it all works, and how it destroys lives by exploitation and systematic maltreatment. They make painful reading and watching.

The regime pretends to abide to international labour law, there even are 'labour unions'. But the right of strike and anything like serious workers'organizational rights are lacking. Resistance is extremely risky. “We don't complain, because if we complain for anything, the company will kick us out”, as a migrant worker from Nepal explains.

HRW and Equal Times are pushing the issue of migrant workers'maltreatment into the limelight, lobbying with the orgazational committee and FIFA, international trade union movement ITUC and the ILO. Government and FIFA promises have been made, but progress along that line can not be more that limited. There is too much money at stake to be hindered by the demand for necessary but costly improvements. Things will change – after the spirit of revolt engulfing the region finally reaches the building sites and workers' barracks of that exploiters' paradise called Qatar.

By Peter Storm

Peter Storm blogs, among other things, at Libcom.org under the name Rooieravotr. http://libcom.org/blog/rooieravotr

Comments

Reddebrek
Nov 17 2012 17:20

"The main news channel spreading attention to these events, Aljazeera, is Qatari-baed and regime-owned, which does not help to raise attention to what happens there."

You probably already know this but I think its worth mentioning for those who don't. Aljazeera English and Arabic versions (I don't know about other language versions) has done a very good job covering the struggles in Egypt and North Africa, and even Southern Africa, but it is either silent or explicitly pro establishment in countries very similar in composition to Qatar i.e. the Gulf kingdoms like Bahrain and its own borders.

Apparently Aljazeera won't even acknowledge the U.S. military presence in its country as its deemed to contentious. And you can forget about anything on migrant workers above the level of advertising pieces to trick more South Asians.

Oh and you might want to check out this documentary by Vice on Dubai's (Most Gulf states are guilty of this) migrant workers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMh-vlQwrmU

wojtek
Nov 20 2012 01:28

The reports by Human Rights Watch and Equal Times are here and here.

British trade minister leads business team to Qatar

wojtek
Nov 20 2012 01:28
Quote:
Reddebrek wrote:
And you can forget about anything [from Al Jazeera] on migrant workers above the level of advertising pieces to trick more South Asians.

Really?
Migrant worker rights under scrutiny in Qatar
Lost in the Gulf: India's missing migrants
Qatar promises labour reform before 2022
Indian workers allege abuse in Qatar
The plight of Qatar's migrant workers

Whether this will diminish as a conceit the closer we get to the World Cup and as the media spotlight on the Gulf state gets brighter only time will tell though I suspect it will. Is the coverage the same domestically, because this US embassy cable suggests otherwise?

Reddebrek
Nov 20 2012 20:46
Quote:
Really?

Whether this will diminish as a conceit the closer we get to the World Cup and as the media spotlight on the Gulf state gets brighter only time will tell though I suspect it will. Is the coverage the same domestically, because this US embassy cable suggests otherwise?

What do those stories have in common? There all in English, Aljazeera English is practically a separate network to Aljazeera Arabic which is the one most Arabs actually watch, at times it takes polar opposite sides to the English network. For example Aljazeera English did cover Bahrain when it started kicking off but that was cut and undermined when Arab commentators noticed the double standard of the Arabic Network's coverage. Now its mostly pro government when Bahrain gets mentioned.

It's a very common trick when you have multi language news services to make the international service more open or critical of the official line to deflect criticism of the organisation as a whole. Your domestic population is unlikely to see it -well not many anyway- and it makes you look more open and fair internationally. Press TV and Russia Today have been critical of their governments occasionally in minor ways and the People's Daily (English) is generally considered less pro CPC then the Chinese edition.

The cable you quote confirms what I've read from ex-Aljazeera reporters frustrated with the company, while speaking of press freedom the Qatari family is using it as a tool of foreign policy. Given the greater media attention to Qatar I doubt even the English service will bother running any articles on migrant labourers for awhile it'd be like the People's Daily(English) headlining with a bloody crackdown on Tibetans during the Olympics.