Asserting that governments in the Gulf have “largely failed to reform abusive law and practices,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on companies across the region to adopt a new code to protect their employees.
In a 10-page “Guide to Doing Ethical Business in the GCC” released last week, the group said “businesses do not need to wait for new laws or rules to act” on behalf of their workers.
In a statement, HRW added that despite some talk of reforms, “migrant workers in GCC countries frequently experience hazardous, sometimes deadly, working conditions, long hours, unpaid wages, and cramped and unsanitary housing.”
The report comes a week after the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) indicted several international companies for having a presence in Qatar, saying that construction firms, hotels, retail chains and western universities should carefully consider the “cost of doing business in a slave state.”
It also follows the establishment of a Dec. 14, 2016 deadline for the implementation of new reforms to Qatar’s current legislation that will make it easier for some expats to change jobs and leave the country.
When releasing its recommendations, HRW did praise some Qatar organizations for adopting worker charters that hold contractors to higher standards when it comes to the treatment of their employees.
But the group strongly recommended that other companies follow suit to preserve their reputations and protect their employees from the “highly exploitative” kafala sponsorship system of employment, adding:
“Access to legal and judicial remedies is extremely limited, and employers are rarely, if ever, prosecuted for violating labor laws. Authorities often respond to striking workers with detention and deportation.”
In its guide, the group recommended that companies that are serious about safeguarding employee rights do the following:
- Cover recruiting costs, including reimbursing workers who paid such fees;
- Provide workers with safe facilities so they can hold on to their passports;
- Pay workers on time and in full;
- Implement overtime pay systems;
- Provide workers with decent accommodation; and
- Facilitate (rather than prevent or obstruct) measures to allow employees to seek redress for their issues.
Finally, HRW also recommended independent third-party monitoring to ensure effective implementation.
In a statement, Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director, concluded:
“This is a big challenge for the construction sector, but it will have benefits for the welfare of hundreds of thousands of young men and their families, not to mention the companies’ own reputations.”