Migrant worker abuse still 'rampant' in Qatar despite promises of reform, Amnesty claims
Labour abuse remains "rampant" in Qatar despite some reforms introduced since the Gulf Arab state won the right to organise the World Cup five years ago, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.
Qatar, one of the wealthiest countries in the world which is preparing to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, has been widely criticised for its treatment of migrant workers, especially in the construction industry.
The gas exporter denies exploiting workers and announced labour reforms in May last year, but Amnesty says these changes have not gone far enough.
Amnesty said that under Qatar's "kafala", or work-sponsorship system, foreign workers are still required to seek their employer's consent to change jobs or leave the country, putting them at the mercy of their employers.
Qatar's Labour Ministry declined to comment on the statement. A ministry official has previously dismissed similar reports by NGOs as aiming to "create negative publicity about Qatar abroad".
Recent changes introduced by Qatar include a wage protection system requiring companies to pay salaried workers by electronic bank transfer, and a rule allowing foreign workers to appeal to a government committee if their employer does not sanction their leaving the country.
FIFA said in a statement that it believed that the World Cup could be a "catalyst" for improved working conditions in Qatar.
Some 260 migrant workers from India have died in Qatar in 2015, according to figures from the Indian embassy in Doha seen by Reuters. This figure covers all migrant deaths.
Along with the controversy over labour conditions, accusations of graft during its World Cup bid and concerns over the stifling summer heat have cast a shadow over Qatar's efforts to become the competition's first Arab host.
"Under the kafala system it is all too easy for an unscrupulous employer to get away with the late payment of salaries, housing workers in squalid and cramped housing, or threatening workers who complain about their conditions," said Amnesty's Gulf Migrant Rights Researcher Mustafa Qadri.
He said the kafala system needed a major overhaul, rather than minor changes.
With nearly $200 billion worth of infrastructure projects planned, hundreds of thousands of workers have been recruited from countries such as India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Soccer's governing body FIFA said the local organising World Cup committee had its own rules on labour rights which were in line with international standards on working conditions, accommodation and wages.
"These standards are contractually binding for all companies working on 2022 FIFA World Cup projects," FIFA said in a statement.