By PETE PATTISSON
The Guardian (Sept 25, 2013) – DOZENS of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in Qatar in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.
This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.
According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.
The investigation also reveals:
- Evidence of forced labour on a huge World Cup infrastructure project.
- Some Nepalese men have alleged that they have not been paid for months and have had their salaries retained to stop them running away.
- Some workers on other sites say employers routinely confiscate passports and refuse to issue ID cards, in effect reducing them to the status of illegal aliens.
- Some labourers say they have been denied access to free drinking water in the desert heat.
- About 30 Nepalese sought refuge at their embassy in Doha to escape the brutal conditions of their employment.
The allegations suggest a chain of exploitation leading from poor Nepalese villages to Qatari leaders. The overall picture is of one of the richest nations exploiting one of the poorest to get ready for the world’s most popular sporting tournament.
“We’d like to leave, but the company won’t let us,” said one Nepalese migrant employed at Lusail City development, a $45bn (£28bn) city being built from scratch which will include the 90,000-seater stadium that will host the World Cup final. “I’m angry about how this company is treating us, but we’re helpless. I regret coming here, but what to do? We were compelled to come just to make a living, but we’ve had no luck.”
The body tasked with organising the World Cup, the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, told the Guardian that work had yet to begin on projects directly related to the World Cup. However, it said it was “deeply concerned with the allegations that have been made against certain contractors/sub-contractors working on Lusail City’s construction site and considers this issue to be of the utmost seriousness”. It added: “We have been informed that the relevant government authorities are conducting an investigation into the allegations.”
The Guardian’s investigation also found men throughout the wider Qatari construction industry sleeping 12 to a room in places and getting sick through repulsive conditions in filthy hostels. Some say they have been forced to work without pay and left begging for food.
“We were working on an empty stomach for 24 hours; 12 hours’ work and then no food all night,” said Ram Kumar Mahara, 27. “When I complained, my manager assaulted me, kicked me out of the labour camp I lived in and refused to pay me anything. I had to beg for food from other workers.”
Almost all migrant workers have huge debts from Nepal, accrued in order to pay recruitment agents for their jobs. The obligation to repay these debts, combined with the non-payment of wages, confiscation of documents and inability of workers to leave their place of work, constitute forced labour, a form of modern-day slavery estimated to affect up to 21 million people across the globe. So entrenched is this exploitation that the Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Maya Kumari Sharma, recently described the emirate as an “open jail”.
“The evidence uncovered by the Guardian is clear proof of the use of systematic forced labour 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 labour. It is already happening.”
Qatar has the highest ratio of migrant workers to domestic population in the world: more than 90 per cent of the workforce are immigrants and the country is expected to recruit up to 1.5 million more labourers to build the stadiums, roads, ports and hotels needed for the tournament. Nepalese account for about 40 per cent of migrant labourers in Qatar. More than 100,000 Nepalese left for the emirate last year.The murky system of recruitment brokers in Asia and labour contractors in Qatar leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. The supreme committee has insisted that decent labour standards will be set for all World Cup contracts, but underneath it a complex web of project managers, construction firms and labour suppliers, employment contractors and recruitment agents operate.
According to some estimates, Qatar will spend $100bn on infrastructure projects to support the World Cup. As well as nine state-of-the-art stadiums, the country has committed to $20bn worth of new roads, $4bn for a causeway connecting Qatar to Bahrain, $24bn for a high-speed rail network, and 55,000 hotel rooms to accommodate visiting fans and has almost completed a new airport.
The World Cup is part of an even bigger programme 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 likesuch 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 programme management consultant to the supreme committee. It says it has a “zero tolerance policy for the use of forced labour and other human trafficking practices”.
Halcrow said: “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 labour force is not under our direct purview.”
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%, 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. SBD said he was employed by a subcontractor that supplies labourers for the project. Some workers say their subcontrator has confiscated their passports and refused to issue the ID cards they are entitled to under Qatari law. “Our manager always promises he’ll issue [our cards] ‘next week’,” added a scaffolder who said he had worked in Qatar for two years without being given an ID card.
Without official documentation, migrant workers are in effect reduced to the status of illegal aliens, often unable to leave their place of work without fear of arrest and not entitled to any legal protection. Under the state-run kafala sponsorship system, workers are also unable to change jobs or leave the country without their sponsor company’s permission.
A third worker, who was equally reluctant to give his name for fear of reprisal, added: “We’d like to leave, but the company won’t let us. If we run away, we become illegal and that makes it hard to find another job. The police could catch us at any time and send us back home. We can’t get a resident permit if we leave.”
Other workers said they were forced to work long hours in temperatures of up to 50C (122F) without access to drinking water.
The Qatari labour ministry said it had strict rules governing working in the heat, the provision of labour and the prompt payment of salaries.
“The ministry enforces this law through periodic inspections to ensure that workers have in fact received their wages in time. If a company does not comply with the law, the ministry applies penalties and refers the case to the judicial authorities.”
Lusail Real Estate Company said: “Lusail City will not tolerate breaches of labour or health and safety law. We continually instruct our contractors and their subcontractors of our expectations and their contractual obligations to both us and individual employees. The Guardian have highlighted potentially illegal activities employed by one subcontractor. We take these allegations very seriously and have referred the allegations to the appropriate authorities for investigation. Based on this investigation, we will take appropriate action against any individual or company who has found to have broken the law or contract with us.”
The workers’ plight makes a mockery of concerns for the 2022 footballers.
“Everyone is talking about the effect of Qatar’s extreme heat on a few hundred footballers,” said Umesh Upadhyaya, general secretary of the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions. “But they are ignoring the hardships, blood and sweat of thousands of migrant workers, who will be building the World Cup stadiums in shifts that can last eight times the length of a football match.”
• The Guardian’s investigation into modern-day slavery is supported by Humanity United. Click here for more information
* * *
Qatar World Cup construction ‘will leave 4,000 migrant workers dead’
theguardian.com, Thursday 26 September 2013– QATAR’s construction frenzy ahead of the 2022 World Cup is on course to cost the lives of at least 4,000 migrant workers before a ball is kicked, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has claimed.
The group has been scrutinising builders’ deaths in the Gulf emirate for the past two years and said that at least half a million extra workers from countries including Nepal, India and Sri Lanka are expected to flood in to complete stadiums, hotels and infrastructure in time for the World Cup kickoff.
The annual death toll among those working on building sites could rise to 600 a year – almost a dozen a week – unless the Doha government makes urgent reforms, it says.
The ITUC has based the estimate on current mortality figures for Nepalese and Indian workers who form the bulk of Qatar’s 1.2 million-strong migrant workforce, the large majority of whom are builders.
While it admits that the cause of death is not clear for many of the deceased – with autopsies often not being conducted and routine attribution to heart failure – it believes harsh and dangerous conditions at work and cramped and squalid living quarters are to blame.
The stark warning came after a Guardian investigation revealed that 44 Nepalese workers died from 4 June-8 August this year, about half from heart failure or workplace accidents.
Workers described forced labour in 50C heat, employers who retain salaries for several months and passports making it impossible for them to leave and being denied free drinking water. The investigation found sickness is endemic among workers living in overcrowded and insanitary conditions and hunger has been reported. Thirty Nepalese construction workers took refuge in the their country’s embassy and subsequently left the country, after they claimed they received no pay.
The Indian ambassador in Qatar said 82 Indian workers died in the first five months of this year and 1,460 complained to the embassy about labour conditions and consular problems. More than 700 Indian workers died in Qatar between 2010 and 2012.
Without changes to working practices, more workers will die building the infrastructure in the runup to the World Cup than players will take to the field, the ITUC has warned. “Nothing of any substance is being done by the Qatar authorities on this issue,” said Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the Brussels-based organisation that has met the Qatari labour minister in Geneva and officials at the Qatar 2022 supreme committee, which is preparing the country for the World Cup.
“The evidence-based assessment of the mortality rate of migrant workers in Qatar shows that at least one worker on average per day is dying. In the absence of real measures to tackle that and an increase in 50% of the migrant workforce, there will be a concominant increase in deaths.
“We are absolutely convinced they are dying because of conditions of work and life. Everything the Guardian has found out accords with the information we have gathered from visits to Qatar and Nepal. There are harrowing testimonies from the workers in the system there. The 2022 World Cup is a very high profile event and should be implemented with the very highest standards and that is clearly not the case.”
It is estimated that Qatar, the world’s richest country by income per capita, is spending the equivalent of £62bn from its gas and oil wealth on building transport infrastructure, hotels, stadiums and other facilities ahead of the World Cup.
The ITUC has estimated the number of migrant workers already in Qatar at over 1.2 million and says possibly as many as 1 million more will be needed to get the country ready for the world’s biggest sporting event. “Fifa needs to send a very strong and clear message to Qatar that it will not allow the World Cup to be delivered on the back of a system of modern slavery that is the reality for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers there today,” said Burrow.
The ITUC’s own analysis of deaths this summer appears to tally with the Guardian’s investigation. It found that 32 Nepalese workers died in July, many of them young men in their 20s. “Nepal accounts for less than half the migrant workers in Qatar, and reports from other countries-of-origin indicate that similar numbers of workers from these countries are losing their lives in Qatar,” Burrow said.
Asked to comment on the prediction of thousands of deaths, a spokesman for the Qatar 2022 supreme committee said on Thursday that organisers were “appalled” by the the Guardian’s revelations about the deaths of Nepalese workers who travelled to the Gulf state to work.
“Like everyone viewing the video and images, and reading the accompanying texts, we are appalled by the findings presented in the Guardian’s report,” the spokesman said. “There is no excuse for any worker in Qatar, or anywhere else, to be treated in this manner.
“The health, safety, wellbeing and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 Fifa World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee and we are committed to ensuring that the event serves as a catalyst toward creating sustainable improvements to the lives of all workers in Qatar.”
A leading expert in labour migration to the Gulf from south Asia warned Qatar that ill-treatment of workers would backfire because the labour forces they rely on to build their economies will start resisting.
Prof S Irudaya Rajan, chairman of the research unit on international migration at the centre for development studies in Kerala, India, said: “They need people from India and Nepal to give their hard work and they need better treatment because they are the ones building their whole economy.
“The Qataris have made them invisible in their economy but they have to make them visible. In the 21st century, labour should be treated equally to capital.”
Rajan said he believed Indian workers were better treated than some others because the relatively long history of the country sending workers to the Gulf means support networks are already in place for them.
• This article was amended on 26 September 2013. The name of the International Trade Union Confederation was given wrongly as the International Trade Union Congress. This has been corrected.