"Qatar is a country without a conscience," begins the International Trade Union Confederation's recent report on the working and living conditions of the 1.4 million migrant workers living in Qatar, many of whom are there to build stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup. After reading through the report, it's hard to disagree.
The ITUC estimates that 4,000 migrant workers will die before the 2022 World Cup, an estimate based on mortality trends previously reported by embassies within the country. For example:
191 Nepalese workers died in 2013 working in Qatar compared with 169 in 2012 based on Nepal Government figures. 400 Nepalese workers have died since 2010 when Qatar won the right to host the World Cup.
218 Indian nationals died in 2013 working in Qatar according to figures form the Indian Embassy in Qatar. 237 workers died in 2012 and 239 in 2011. On average, about 20 Indian migrants died per month in 2013, peaking at 27 in the hottest month, August.
The ITUC concludes that the principal cause of all of these deaths is the horrible working conditions that migrant workers suffer through every day, and the report doesn't skimp on detail. It's full of first-person accounts from migrant workers that add a human face to impersonal figures. There are accounts from construction managers:
I went on site this morning at 5:00 a.m. and there was blood everywhere. I don't know what happened, but it was covered up with no report. When I reported this, I was told that if I didn't stop complaining, I would be dismissed.
... and cleaners:
When I first arrived in Qatar, my living conditions were horrible. For three months, I and 15 others who arrived together were forced to sleep on the floor on thin mattresses. We complained to the Qatar National Human Rights Committee about this and were moved into another accommodation. But even now eight people share one bedroom, 16 people share a bathroom and 35 people share a kitchen.
... and construction workers:
Our contract expired, yet the employer has not paid our salaries between one to three months, nor has he provided end of contract benefits or tickets home. Each time we come to the office, it is always, "Come back in a couple of days and you will have your pay and tickets."
We have worked hard and just want what is due to us and to go home. We are stuck now in cramped accommodations, with poor food and no clean drinking water. We are treated like animals.
Worse yet, the ITUC concludes that Qatar's recent efforts to improve the working and living conditions of its migrant work force are a sham. In the last year, Qatar set forth two charters—the Qatar Foundation Mandatory Standards (QFMS) and the Supreme Committee Workers' Welfare Standards (SCWWS)—that were supposed to ensure that migrant workers were treated properly and afforded basic human rights. It seems, though, that both charters are completely toothless and unenforceable.
The QFMS, for example, requires that contractors submit a "welfare adherence plan" with their bids in order to prove that workers will be properly compensated and treated. The adherence plan, however, is the result of a self-audit by the contractors. The Qatari Foundation will occasionally perform its own audits on construction companies, but companies aren't scrutinized by a truly independent organization that has the power to enforce laws.
The SCWWS is even more hollow. The charter requires contractor-employed "welfare officers" to hold monthly forums with workers at their accommodation sites. Workers are only allowed to discuss the conditions of their accommodation site at these meetings, though, and are not allowed to talk about wages, working hours and conditions, or any other concerns they might have.
And the QFMS and SCWWS are essentially useless as long as Qatar's kafala system remains in place. Under kafala law, migrant workers are essentially indentured servants, completely at the mercy of their employers. Many migrant workers have their passports confiscated by their employers when they arrive in Qatar, and they're not allowed to change jobs unless they receive permission from their current employer.
You can read the ITUC's full report here.