Migrant workers from Nepal are reportedly having their pay withheld to prevent them from leaving and dying due to extreme working conditions while helping build the infrastructure necessary for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.
Pete Pattisson of The Guardian provided the troublesome details about the lengths the country will go in order to have stadiums, roads, rails and other structures completed before it takes center stage:
This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.
He also passed along comments from workers, such as Ram Kumar Mahara, which allowed for a closer look at what they are forced to deal with on a daily basis:
"We were working on an empty stomach for 24 hours; 12 hours' work and then no food all night," said Ram Kumar Mahara, 27. "When I complained, my manager assaulted me, kicked me out of the labour camp I lived in and refused to pay me anything. I had to beg for food from other workers."
Other employees didn't want to be named due to fear of backlash, but told similar stories of poor treatment throughout the process. Some even went as far as saying the company that hired them is not allowing them to leave:
"We'd like to leave, but the company won't let us," said one Nepalese migrant employed at Lusail City development, a $45bn (£28bn) city being built from scratch which will include the 90,000-seater stadium that will host the World Cup final. "I'm angry about how this company is treating us, but we're helpless. I regret coming here, but what to do? We were compelled to come just to make a living, but we've had no luck."
An investigation into the work practices showed that up to 12 workers were often forced to stay in a single room and frequently denied food and water. The Guardian states the conditions have led to around 30 migrants seeking refuge.
The director of Anti-Slavery International, Aidan McQuade, told the paper the evidence shows the World Cup preparations are being completed through forced labor:
"The evidence uncovered by the Guardian is clear proof of the use of systematic forced labour in Qatar," said Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, which was founded in 1839. "In fact, these working conditions and the astonishing number of deaths of vulnerable workers go beyond forced labour to the slavery of old where human beings were treated as objects. There is no longer a risk that the World Cup might be built on forced labour. It is already happening."
The Guardian's Owen Gibson adds that Qatar is set to spend more than £137 billion on investments over the next eight years leading up to the marquee international event:
Reliable local sources put the total figure to be invested in infrastructure over the next decade at £137bn. A rail network, a metro system, a new network of roads and an entire new city are to be constructed over the next eight years.
Based on the report, it appears those involved in the project are willing to do whatever it takes, including pushing workers to the limit—and to death in some cases—to complete the upgrades. The Guardian states that this amounts to "modern-day slavery."
The newspaper's Mona Mahmood also provided the statements given by the Lusail Real Estate Development Company—the company responsible for the bulk of the project— and Qatar's supreme committee.
Lusail City will not tolerate breaches of labour or health and safety law. We continually instruct our contractors and their subcontractors of our expectations and their contractual obligations to both us and individual employees.
We are extremely concerned at the allegations highlighted to us. Lusail employs, directly and via subcontractors, over 20,000 people. We value each employee.
From Qatar's supreme committee:
The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee (Q22) is deeply concerned with the allegations that have been made against certain contractors/sub-contractors working on Lusail City's construction site and considers this issue to be of the utmost seriousness. We have been informed that the relevant government authorities are conducting an investigation into the allegations.
The committee released a more detailed statement on Thursday, per BBC Sport:
A Qatari statement read: "There is no excuse for any worker in Qatar to be treated in this manner."
The statement from World Cup organisers continued: "The health, safety, well-being and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 Fifa World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee and we are committed to ensuring that the event serves as a catalyst toward creating sustainable improvements to the lives of all workers in Qatar.
The statement added: "We firmly believe that all workers engaged on our projects, and those of the other infrastructure developers in Qatar, have a right to be treated in a manner that ensures at all times their wellbeing, safety, security, and dignity.
"This is our top priority as we begin to deliver on the promises made in our bid to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar."
Whether or not the real-estate company and supreme committee actually take action following these carefully-worded statements, this is a worrisome situation that warrants watching in the coming months and years.