Responding to calls on FIFA to pressure Qatar into changing its labor standards, President Sepp Blatter has said the companies who hire workers – and not the world’s football governing body – are responsible for ensuring employee rights.
Speaking to reporters in Sri Lanka, the official said, as quoted by Reuters:
“In Qatar they are working in big companies from Germany, from France, from England and from other European countries and they are responsible of their workers and not FIFA.”
According to the Guardian, Blatter added that there are now “better conditions” in Qatar because it is hosting the 2022 World Cup.
The official’s position is a bit of a departure from the previous approach FIFA had taken with regards to labor rights in Qatar. Previously, FIFA put the onus on the government to ensure abuses do not continue to occur here.
In January for example, the organization asked Qatar to send a report detailing its plan to improve the situation of migrant workers.
Blatter also met with the Emir a few months before that to discuss concerns about exploitation of workers, and was told at the time that the country was working to mitigate these issues.
In a statement then, FIFA executive committee member Dr. Theo Zwanziger was quoted as saying:
“We are currently in the middle of an intensive process, which is exclusively aimed at improving the situation of workers in Qatar. Ultimately, what we need are clear rules and steps that will build trust and ensure that the situation, which is unacceptable at the moment, improves in a sustainable manner.”
While government enforcement of the labor law is critical, placing some of the responsibility on companies that hire migrant workers here is not entirely unfair.
Recruitment companies in sending countries such as India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines are responsible for supplying the vast majority of laborers employed in Qatar’s construction industry.
But many of the practices employed by these companies are fueled by bribery, deceit and corruption, the report stated.
Some of the main problems involve the hefty fees many expats must pay to recruitment companies to secure their passage to Qatar, and the false contracts presented to them in their home countries.
Workers’ woes are compounded in Qatar when their employers withhold passports, delay or don’t pay wages or get stuck in the system due to kafala rules, the report added.
Author Dr. Ray Jureidini called for a serious overhaul of the system, saying the Qatari government should lead the reforms by developing ethical recruitment practices with the sending countries.
Labor rights debate
International rights groups have stepped up scrutiny of Qatar in the years since it was awarded hosting rights for the World Cup.
The Gulf state is currently in the midst of a building boom that is heavily reliant on migrant labor, mostly sourced from poor countries such as Nepal, India and the Philippines.
Concerns about workplace safety, hygienic living conditions and problems with wage payment are among some of the issues raised by a number of groups who have visited Qatar, including the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Last month, Amnesty warned that time was running out for Qatar to make any meaningful changes. While there have been promises of new laws to protect migrant workers from abuse at the hands of their employers, little has changed on the ground in Qatar, the group said in a new report.
For its part, Qatar has promised that reform to the kafala system, including making it easier to change jobs and leave the country, are coming. But they may not take effect until next year at the earliest.