Sun, Sep 29, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Mistreatment entrenched in Qatar’s economy

The contractors constructing the Qatar World Cup village are not just exploiting migrant workers, they are creating a system of ‘modern-day slavery.’ Their tools are not new in a gulf state, built on migrant labor

By Pete Pattisson  /  The Guardian, KATHMANDU and DOHA

“The evidence uncovered by the Guardian is clear proof of the use of systematic forced labor in Qatar,” said Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, which was founded in 1839. “In fact, these working conditions and the astonishing number of deaths of vulnerable workers go beyond forced labour to the slavery of old where human beings were treated as objects. There is no longer a risk that the World Cup might be built on forced labor. It is already happening.”

Qatar has the highest ratio of migrant workers to domestic population in the world: more than 90 percent of the workforce are immigrants and the country is expected to recruit up to 1.5 million more laborers to build the stadiums, roads, ports and hotels needed for the tournament. Nepalese account for about 40 percent of migrant laborers in Qatar. More than 100,000 Nepalese left for the emirate last year.

The murky system of recruitment brokers in Asia and labor contractors in Qatar leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. The supreme committee has insisted that decent labor standards will be set for all World Cup contracts, but underneath it a complex web of project managers, construction firms and labor suppliers, employment contractors and recruitment agents operate.

According to some estimates, Qatar will spend US$100 billion on infrastructure projects to support the World Cup. As well as nine state-of-the-art stadiums, the country has committed to build an airport, US$20 billion worth of new roads, US$4 billion for a causeway connecting Qatar to Bahrain, US$24 billion for a high-speed rail network, and 55,000 hotel rooms to accommodate visiting fans.

The World Cup is part of an even bigger program of construction in Qatar designed to remake the tiny desert kingdom over the next two decades. Qatar has yet to start building stadiums for 2022, but has embarked on the big infrastructure projects such as Lusail City that, according to the US project managers, Parsons, “will play a major role during the 2022 FIFA World Cup.” The British engineering company Halcrow, part of the CH2M Hill group, is a lead consultant on the Lusail project responsible for “infrastructure design and construction supervision.” CH2M Hill was recently appointed the official program management consultant to the supreme committee. It says it has a “zero tolerance policy for the use of forced labor and other human trafficking practices.”

“Our supervision role of specific construction packages ensures adherence to site contract regulation for health, safety and environment. The terms of employment of a contractor’s labor force is not under our direct purview,” Halcrow said.

Some Nepalese working at Lusail City tell desperate stories. They are saddled with huge debts they are paying back at interest rates of up to 36 percent, yet say they are forced to work without pay.

“The company has kept two months’ salary from each of us to stop us running away,” said one man who gave his name as SBD and who works at the Lusail City marina.

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