HRW: Migrant workers in Qatar risk ‘forced labor’

Human Rights Watch warned on Tuesday that migrant construction workers in Qatar, which is preparing to host the 2022 World Cup, risk serious abuse amounting to "forced labor."

"The government needs to ensure that the cutting edge, high-tech stadiums it's planning to build for World Cup fans are not built on the backs of abused and exploited workers," said HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson in a statement released at a news conference in Doha.

The New York-based watchdog said construction workers, mostly South Asians, "risk serious exploitation and abuse, sometimes amounting to forced labor," as it released its report: "Building a Better World Cup: Protecting Migrant Workers in Qatar Ahead of FIFA 2022."

The 146-page report was based on interviews with 73 migrant construction workers, as well as meetings and correspondence with government officials, employers, contracting companies, recruitment agents, diplomats from labor-sending countries, and worker advocates, HRW said.

It said the problems migrant workers face include "exorbitant recruitment fees, which can take years to pay off, employers' routine confiscation of worker passports, and Qatar's restrictive sponsorship system that gives employers inordinate control over their employees."

"Workers reported a range of problems, including unpaid wages, illegal salary deductions, crowded and unsanitary labor camps, and unsafe working conditions," it said.

HRW pointed out that Qatari laws also prohibit migrant workers from unionizing or striking, in violation of the International Labor Organization regulations which identify free association as a core labor right.

Whitson told reporters that the government of Qatar has shown willingness to cooperate, but has not made any commitments so far.

"The Qatari government is very open. They have expressed their wishes to work with Human Rights Watch... (But) they have not made any specific commitments and said they need more time," she said.

She also said that Qatari authorities did not try to obstruct HRW's press conference from being held in Doha.

The energy-rich Gulf emirate became last year the first Arab country to be awarded rights to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

It announced multi-billion-dollar developments in preparation for the global event, including air-conditioned stadiums to cope with high temperature and humidity in the desert state.

HRW said that Qatar may recruit up to one million additional migrant construction workers in the next decade in preparation for the tournament.

It said migrant workers already represent 94 percent of the Qatar's workforce, the world's highest ratio of migrants to citizens.

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