By Benjamin Lutz
On December 2, 2010, the global community was shocked at the announcement of the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup – Qatar. Its extremely hot temperatures make Qatar a surprising choice to host this international event, with many alluding to corruption from FIFA and Qatar. Furthermore, Qatar is the smallest country in terms of landmass to host this international event, another concern due to the huge crowd that comes to enjoy the World Cup. Apart from the logistics of hosting the World Cup, many more have condemned Qatar for the ghastly conditions that migrant laborers face as they build the twelve stadiums, as well as a new airport, roads, hotels, and other infrastructural changes to prepare for 2022, billed at over $140 billion. Well before the 2010 announcement, human rights groups advocated for a change to Qatar’s system for employing migrants. The name of the current system is kafala, a system forcing all migrants to be sponsored and subsequently tied to an employer. This employer controls housing, wages, travel, and the well being of each employee. The kafala system has been frequently described as modern day slavery due to its exploitative nature. Forced labor, unpaid work, confiscation of documents, and withholding food and water to the migrants are a few of the mechanisms of control the employers enact over the migrants under the kafala system.
Workers mainly from South and Southeast Asia travel to Qatar with the hope of a securing a job in order to send remittances back to their families, but the kafala system traps them under the purview of their employer. The 2022 World Cup announcement has seen a significant rise in migrant workers coming to Qatar, creating a larger humanitarian crisis for the living and working conditions of the laborers. Qatar has not changed its policy of the kafala system since it became host of the 2022 World Cup, even with the additional international scrutiny towards its government. If Qatar does not change its policy before 2022, an estimated 4,000 migrant workers will die, making this event the deadliest in sporting history.
Qatar does not view the kafala system as harmful or exploitative. It continues using it because it is an efficient way to have cheap labor in many economic sectors of their country, especially construction. Consequentially, Qatar has a lopsided population; only about 10% of the population is made up of Qatari citizens. The other 90% are expatriate migrant workers with temporary residency status, which accounts for 94% of the workforce in Qatar. Overall, the living and working conditions for migrant laborers are deplorable, and with the announcement of the 2022 World Cup, the situation has only worsened, contrary to Qatar’s claims that it has altered its laws to accommodate the wishes of the international community.
In preparation for global sporting events, migrant workers are frequently exploited through stealing of wages, excessively long working hours, potentially deadly working and living conditions, and the restriction of free movement. Qatar’s unquenchable ambition to dazzle the world with modern stadiums and infrastructure leads to an increase in migrant workers, succumbing them to systemized exploitation under the kafala system. The conditions to house the migrants working on these new projects are filthy, cramped, and dangerous, and even without the pressure of the World Cup, hundreds of workers die each year from work accidents. In perspective, one death in preparation for a sporting event is a tremendous disappointment for the host country; according to some sources, 1,200 migrant workers in Qatar have already died as a part of the 2022 World Cup preparation. This figure is presumed to be much higher, although the Qatari government is adamant that no workers have died in the various construction projects. Without pressure from FIFA, Qatar is under no pressure to alter its policy. In terms of World Cup logistics, FIFA has been extremely proactive to enable Qatar to host the World Cup, especially taking the unprecedented step of moving the tournament from summer to winter. FIFA’s overall lack of a direct response to the violations occurring in Qatar, allows the kafala system to continue to thrive and exploit thousands of vulnerable migrant workers each year.
With the 2022 World Cup preparation currently ongoing, now is the time to advocate for a policy change to labor laws in Qatar. The 2022 World Cup is six years away, and with no immediate plans to relocate to a country with less human rights violations, more migrant laborers will travel to Qatar to construct the infrastructure needed to host this large event. However, the number of deaths from the December 2, 2010, announcement until today is growing, highlighting the fact that international sporting events have a higher cost than just the financial burden. Minimum wages, transparency, an increase in both the quantity and quality of labor inspectors, and free movement are all rights granted to migrant workers. Qatar must stop exploiting these vulnerable populations simply to make a profit, regardless of their status as the host of the 2022 World Cup. The kafala system is not only in Qatar, and these recommendations must be duplicated to any other country violating the rights of migrant laborers. Hopefully, the 2022 World Cup will not be “built on the bones” of 4,000 vulnerable people.