With fewer than six years remaining until the World Cup in Qatar kicks off in 2022, Amnesty International remains critical of FIFA’s stance on the country’s labor laws under which migrant workers building the tournament’s venues have to live.
“FIFA simply cannot continue to remain shamefully ambivalent to the plight of workers in Qatar,” the group’s Deputy Director for Global Issues James Lynch said in a statement this week.
Amnesty International’s latest round of criticism comes amid Qatari efforts to reform its labor laws, including dropping what’s known as the kalafa, or labor sponsorship program, that provides more rights to employers than employees. The system, which is also used in other Middle Eastern countries, gives employers the power to issue an exit permit, which if abused, can keep the more than 2.1 million workers, most of whom come from India and Nepal, in Qatar against their will.
On Monday, according to the Associated Press, Qatar’s government said it had abolished the kalafa system to provide “greater flexibility, freedom and protection” to its migrant workers.
“We are doing this because we believe it is the right thing to do and because it provides tangible new benefits to expatriate workers,” the minister responsible for labor, Issa bin Saad al-Jafali al-Nuaimi, said (via the AP).
The new law, however, doesn’t totally free workers from their employers. Workers wishing to leave the country must still get permission from their employer, who can deny their request for any number of reasons. One difference now is that employees have the right to appeal to the government if their employer denies their exit requests.
This change has not convinced Lynch or researchers at the fellow human rights group Human Rights Watch, who called the new version of the sponsorship system “a serious strain on Qatar’s international reputation.”
“The message this law sends is that Qatar doesn’t really care much about migrant workers,” HRW’s Deputy Middle East Director Joe Stork told the AP this week.
The International Trade Union Confederation, which monitors worker conditions around the world, criticized the reforms for holding up what it calls “modern slavery” in Qatar.
“One of the world’s richest countries is responsible for keeping workers in poverty and servitude, with appalling work-related death and injury rates,” the organization’s General Secretary Sharan Burrow said in a statement this week.
Previously the group estimated as many as 4,000 people could die due to the harsh conditions of the job and labor camps in which many of the workers must live.
FIFA has not publicly commented on Qatar’s revamped labor laws, although in April FIFA President Gianni Infantino had called for a new committee to monitor working conditions faced by the World Cup venue workers in Qatar.
“We will not just sit and wait,” Infantino said (via the BBC). “FIFA will step up its efforts in overseeing… in order to ensure the protection of the workers’ rights in the construction of the FIFA World Cup sites.”