Written by Beatrix Immenkamp.
Enormous natural gas resources have turned Qatar into one of the world’s richest countries. The 11 610 km2 nation currently has the fourth highest GDP per capita in the world. The absolute monarchy’s estimated 340 000-350 000 citizens benefit from free education, free healthcare, virtually guaranteed – and well paid – employment, and pay almost no taxes. However, the great majority of the emirate’s nearly 3 million inhabitants live in very different conditions. Qatar has the highest ratio of migrants in the world: 85 % of its population are migrants and 94 % of its workforce comes from abroad, mostly from south Asia and Africa. In contrast to the small percentage of expatriates from the West and other Gulf States, Asian and African migrants live and work in harsh conditions. Around 1 million are employed in construction, and 100 000 are domestic workers.
In December 2010, FIFA, world football’s governing body, granted Qatar the right to host the 2022 World Cup, which is scheduled to take place from 21 November to 18 December. Expanding on an existing development programme enshrined in the Qatar National Vision 2030, the country embarked on an extensive building programme to prepare for the World Cup, involving an estimated 1 million migrant workers. However, these preparations placed the spotlight on Qatar’s poor treatment of migrant workers. In response to international pressure, Qatar has introduced important legal changes to improve the situation of these workers, which the EU has welcomed. However, according to human rights organisations, the country needs to take further steps to stop abuses. Of particular concern is the kafala sponsorship system, which is widely used throughout the six Gulf Cooperation Council States and gives disproportionate power to employers, leading to widespread abuse of migrant workers’ rights. Even though Qatar has started to dismantle the kafala system, important elements remain in place. Moreover, ensuring compliance with more favourable labour laws remains a challenge. Since 2008, the European Parliament has adopted four resolutions addressing the situation of migrant workers in Qatar; it has called on Qatar to end the ‘deplorable situation’ of migrant workers and prevent preparations for the 2022 World Cup from being ‘overshadowed by allegations of forced labour’.
Read the complete briefing on ‘The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar: Turning the spotlight on workers’ rights‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.