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Migrant workers’ conditions in Qatar: Prospects of change on the road to the 2022 World Cup

The decision of FIFA, world football’s governing body, to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, despite its climate constraints and the lack of a domestic football tradition, was a major victory in Qatar’s long-term strategy aimed at enhancing the Emirate’s international outreach, within a broader ambitious foreign policy.

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However commentators stress that the challenge of hosting the World Cup could trigger major social change, endangering the Qatari political system which has remained untouched by the Arab Spring. Indeed the absolute monarchy is sustained by a generous benefits system for the minority – Qatari citizens – while the majority – 94% of the, mostly migrant, workforce – suffers harsh working and living conditions. Although Qatari law includes considerable protection for migrant workers, this is scarcely enforced in practice. One reason is the legal provisions that grant excessive rights to employers (sponsorship system), while denying any rights of association to workers. International civil society pressure on Qatar, conscious of its public image, could bring about unexpected changes in the entire Gulf region. Neighbouring countries have all developed similar arrangements to deal with the foreign workforce, on which they depend.

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