Nov. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Qatar needs to better enforce labor regulations amid “widespread and routine abuse” of migrant workers, Amnesty International said, as the country starts $200 billion of building projects to host soccer’s 2022 World Cup.
Some maltreated workers were employed by subcontractors who worked for companies including state-owned Qatar Petroleum, South Korea’s Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co. and Spain’s OHL Construcción, the human-rights group said in a release on its new report, “The Dark Side of Migration, Spotlight on Qatar’s Construction Sector.”
Amnesty said some workers in Qatar weren’t paid wages, were subject to “harsh and dangerous” working conditions and “shocking standards of accommodation.” The group documented the cases of dozens of workers who were prevented from leaving the country for “many months” by their employers. The accusations came after U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported in September that 44 Nepalese workers died between June 4 and Aug. 8 amid “appalling labor abuses.”
“Companies must ensure that migrant workers employed on construction projects linked to their operations are not being abused,” Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, said in the release. “They should be proactive and not just take action when abuses are drawn to their attention.”
Hyundai Engineering said it last year asked one of its subcontractors to improve the conditions of workers employed on a construction project in Qatar. “While Hyundai Engineering isn’t directly involved but as the overseer of the construction project, we made a request for an immediate fix and problems regarding workers conditions have been dealt with,” the company said in an e-mailed statement on the Amnesty report. ’’Hyundai Engineering will put more efforts to better monitor subcontractors at overseas projects.’’
Amnesty said it contacted several companies regarding cases of abuse.
Qatar Petroleum said in an e-mailed statement that it will take Amnesty’s report “into serious consideration” and conduct a “thorough investigation” of the issues it raised. OHL didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment yesterday.
“Many expressed serious concerns about Amnesty International’s findings and some said that they had carried out investigations,” the group said in the release. “One company said it had upgraded its inspection regime as a result.”
Amend Labor Laws
Qatar, the world’s richest country per capita, has faced increased scrutiny over treatment of foreign workers since it was awarded the right to host the 2022 World Cup, the most-watched sporting event, three years ago. Foreign workers make up 88 percent of the population of 2 million, the highest ratio of migrants to citizens in the world, Francois Crepeau, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, said in a Nov. 10 report.
Crepeau, who visited Qatar for eight days this month, issued a report with 14 recommendations for improving worker protections. These included creating a minimum wage, enforcing a law that forbids employers from confiscating worker passports, abolishing a rule requiring employers to sign off on exit visas and recognizing the right of workers to organize.
The country’s government pledged to amend its labor laws to better protect workers and will step up work site inspections, Sepp Blatter, president of soccer’s governing body FIFA, told reporters Nov. 9 after meetings with Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani and labor ministry representatives.
Qatar, holder of the world’s third-largest natural gas reserves, plans to build nine new stadiums, a $35 billion metro and rail system, new highways and a city for 200,000 people before hosting the World Cup. The country relies largely on South Asians to work on construction sites. About 400,000 Nepalis work in the country, according to embassy data.
“It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world, that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive,” Amnesty’s Shetty said in the release.
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