Conflict & Justice

Labor Lowdown: This week in workers' rights — Qatar


FIFA president Sepp Blatter gives a press conference on November 22, 2013 in Rome after a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican. FIFA boss Sepp Blatter hit back at criticism over work conditions on World Cup venues in Qatar, accusing European companies and saying France and Germany pushed the Qatari bid for "economic interests."



Last week was explosive for Qatar, as the country came under heavy criticism for the continued abuse of its foreign migrant workers in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The European parliament has passed a resolution demanding that Qatar address its many issues—a decision that has been echoed by condemnations from the Arsenal manager, and spoken to by FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Here's a closer look:


The European parliament last week passed an emergency resolution on the prevalent abuse of migrant workers in Qatar, calling on FIFA to "send a clear and strong message to Qatar to avoid the football World Cup 2022 [being] delivered by the assistance of modern slavery,” the Guardian reported.

The resolution demands that Qatar reform and enforce its labor laws, but does not require the country to abolish its kafala sponsorship system, which bonds migrant workers to their employers and says they cannot leave the country without their employer’s permission.

Human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been very vocal about the conditions of migrant workers in Qatar since a Guardian investigation revealed that 44 workers had recently died of heart attack or heat stroke while working on facilities for the FIFA World Cup.

The resolution aims to remind FIFA "that its responsibility goes beyond the development of football and the organization of competitions.”

In response, FIFA president Sepp Blatter on Wednesday called working conditions in Qatar “unacceptable.” This came after meeting with International Trade Union Confederation president Michael Sommer—both leaders decided “fair working conditions must be introduced quickly, consistently and on a sustained basis in Qatar.”

Just this month, in a Doha press conference with the Emir of Qatar, Blatter said he was “convinced that Qatar is taking the situation very seriously,” attracting some criticism. Blatter on Wednesday took to Twitter to clarify: “Contrary to many reports, the unacceptable situation in Qatar regarding working conditions is of big concern to FIFA, and myself,” his first tweet said. “I’m convinced Qatar are taking the situation seriously & that change will come,” the second ended.

Arsène Wenger, the manager of Arsenal—an English Premier League football club based in Holloway—also voiced his “growing concern,” releasing a statement on Friday about the abuses against Qatar’s migrant workers, who make up approximately 88% of the country’s population.

Sommers’ International Trade Union Confederation has warned that 4,000 workers could die “before a ball is kicked in 2022,” if the government does not address workers’ long hours, dangerous conditions, missing payment for months, the confiscation of workers’ passports, living conditions for workers in overcrowded labor camps, denied rights to form unions, and lack of access to free water in extreme heat.

"Qatar takes the allegations that have been made concerning the construction sector extremely seriously and has therefore already put an independent review into those allegations in place, to be conducted as a matter of the utmost urgency," the Qatar foreign ministry said. "Qatar will deal severely with any abuses on the part of companies operating in its construction sector, particularly relating to its migrant labour force."