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Friday, May 14, 2021

Human Rights Watch: Qatar must set timetable to end kafala system

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Qatar pledged to uphold international labor laws when it won hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup, and it must keep this promise by abolishing its restrictive sponsorship system, an international watchdog said in Doha today.

“You cannot hope to run a 21st century tournament with a 19th century labor system,” Nick McGeehan, Middle East consultant at Human Rights Watch, said during a press conference here this morning.

Officials of the group, which released an in-depth report detailing human rights abuses in 90 countries last week, including Qatar, added that local government officials here have acknowledged the problems and are receptive to tackling them.

HRW also outlined the following recommendations:

  • Set out a timetable to abolish the sponsorship system, which restricts travel, the ability to change jobs and complain about employer abuse;
  • Take practical steps to ensure migrant workers have not paid illegal recruitment fees, and prohibit companies from doing business with recruitment agencies and subcontractors, in Qatar and abroad, that impose illegal charges on workers;
  • Enforce prohibitions against confiscation of workers’ passports; and
  • Impose meaningful sanctions on companies and individuals who violate laws designed to protect migrant workers’ rights.

Some journalists pushed back against HRW’s statements, asking why so many international groups excessively target Qatar, and asserting that enough attention isn’t given to employers’ rights. 

Employers are not the vulnerable ones, Jan Egeland, HRW’s Europe director, responded.

He added that the group has taken a special interest in migrant labor abuses in 30 countries. Qatar is amongst them “in recognition that it’s a media hub and a leader in so many aspects of economic and political life, and it’s hosting the World Cup,” he said.

One journalist also took issue with the assertion that laborers’ passports are confiscated in the first place, despite the findings of numerous independent reports from international organizations and even Qatar University’s research arm.

When asked about Qatar’s will to change, McGeehan said: 

We’ve seen the beginnings of political will but we need it to be more now. We need the good laws to be enforced, we need the bad laws to be changed and we need violators to be sanctioned. 

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo by Richard Messenger

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