Very few times people take a moment to consider the person serving their food, washing their hair at the salon, or the maid keeping their home clean (for those wealthy enough to have one). No, I am not talking about America and our love of convenience, I am referring to Qatar. This relatively small nation rarely comes to the forefront of people’s minds, let alone to think they have human rights violations worthy of action. After all, Qatar has not been one of the Middle Eastern nations engulfed in internal turmoil, or had wars with their neighbors to be plastered all over the popular news sites. Their war, however, is one of migrant labor and the treatment these helping hands receive. Amnesty International has continued to highlight the violations migrant workers have endured and are enduring in Qatar. Most recently, it has gained media attention since AI’s 2016 report on the abuses levied on employees. The abuses gaining media attention, stem from workers brought in to build up Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. How Qatar was selected to host the world cup in 2022 is another debate altogether, ripe with abuse of power, coercion, and corruption in FIFA. For the World Cup alone, nearly 10,000 migrant workers were brought in to begin building. Some of the abuses by Qatar against the migrants include, but are not limited to:
- 79% reported paying recruitment fees (in order to be selected to work World Cup project)
- Work excessive hours, 50% lacking rest days (1 worked 148 days continuously without a day off)
- Workers felt unable to report health and safety concerns (fear of reprisal)
- 40% of contractors holding passports
Now we know the abuse, but where are these people from, why do they lend themselves to work in Qatar and what is being done? They are from several locations: Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Their living wage and quality of life is far worse in their home countries, so while these migrants are making a pittance of wages in Qatar, it still outweighs what they would earn “back home.” Any work is better than no work, and Qatar takes full advantage of that debilitating need among migrants. However, the United Nation’s International Labour Organization (ILO) announced a deadline to eradicate the abuse; November 2017 according to Reuters. Labor reforms are to be initiated, otherwise the UN’s ILO may open an investigation for the alleged abuses. An interesting crux that allows for the comparison to modern day slavery lies in Qatar’s laws, whereby a migrant worker is bound to their employer; they cannot change jobs or leave the country without permission of their employer. This goes beyond contract work. Qatar has made some changes to allow workers who have “completed” their contract to change jobs, but this still binds them to an employer who may be continuously violating human rights.
In capitalistic societies, it can become easy to adopt the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality for the sake of convenience, availability of labor pool, and purchasing power a nation may have. The moral question here for me is, how does the US maintain an air base operating in Qatar knowing full well that these violations are occurring in the country. As someone who visited Qatar, I can say with certainty I never saw a Qatari in any kind of “service” position, say perhaps as a shop owner, but that still set Qatari’s in an elevated position. Although the workers on base are treated with dignity because we hold ourselves to a higher standard, it is no more than a drop in the bucket when compared with the remaining migrant population in Qatar. When 90% of their population is composed of migrant workers, who have no possibility of climbing the ladder and improving their condition, it seems outright criminal that western nations have not pursued heavy sanctions against Qatar. From a realist perspective, Qatar is taking on the capitalistic approach in the pursuit of national economic interest; getting the biggest bang for their buck. This also brings the topic of relative poverty from a previous lesson. Yes, these migrants are paid meager wages, but compared to their native countries, they are relatively better off and not as poor (they can send remittances to their families). While in relative terms, their lives have improved, that improvement does not say much while Qataris largely out-earn the migrants. Until November comes around, we will have to see if the UN decides to investigate and initiate a special commission for this issue, but one would think, why it has allowed it to go on for so long since Qatar won the bid in 2010. Seemingly, in this World Cup, the losers will be the migrants, regardless of who actually plays in the matches.