Foreign firms accused of exploiting workers

Brussels, December 18

Foreign companies working on construction projects for football’s 2022 World Cup in Qatar are exploiting underpaid workers used as ‘modern-day slaves’, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) alleged today.

The ITUC said in a report that it estimates ‘$15 billion profit will be made by companies working in Qatar on infrastructure ... using up to 1.8 million migrant workers who are modern-day slaves’.

“Every CEO operating in Qatar is aware that their profits are driven by appallingly low wage levels — wages that are often based on a system of racial discrimination — and that these profits risk safety, resulting in indefensible workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths,” said the organisation’s General Secretary, Sharan Burrow.

The ITUC estimated that as many as ‘7,000 workers will die before a ball is kicked in the 2022 World Cup’, but without specifying how or why the figure could rise so high.

“This crisis goes beyond borders of Qatar, involving firms across the world who are profiting from ‘kafala’ labour system which enslaves workers,” it said.

The ITUC cited the example of workers building a showcase World Cup venue, the Khalifa Stadium, who it said were being paid $1.50 (1.4 euros) an hour.

Qatar says it has introduced steps to ensure workers are paid on time, made it illegal for companies to hold workers’ passports, upgraded accommodation and safety standards and improved ‘access to justice’ for those mistreated.

In the face of charges from several rights groups, Doha says it has also put into place proposals which would lead to the end of its controversial kafala system, which limits the rights of movement for workers.

The ITUC called on Qatari authorities to take immediate steps to scrap kafala, ‘starting with elimination of the exit visa’, and to introduce a national minimum wage for all workers.

It also urged FIFA, world football’s governing body, which it said had ‘failed to exert any real pressure’ on Doha ‘to put workers’ rights at the centre of 2022 World Cup preparations’.