Qatar (BBN)-Facing incessant criticism for the way it treats its blue-collar labor force, Qatar is calling for changes to the recruitment system that brings millions of workers to the wealthy Persian Gulf region.
Recruitment practices in the five countries where most workers come from -Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India- have led to widespread abuses including debt bondage, forced labor and human trafficking, said a report of Qatar Foundation.
Qatar Foundation, a non-profit organisation promoting science and education that is linked to the country’s ruling family, made the 162-page report.
For nearly a year now, international human rights organisations have been lambasting Qatar over the plight of its foreign workforce.
Wealthy countries in the region have been importing cheap labor from poorer countries in the past two decades to build infrastructure projects but in recent years have drawn more international scrutiny over workers rights and living conditions.
The human rights criticism has recently even cast a shadow over -and may yet still derail- Qatar’s plans to host the World Cup in 2022.
Qatar had earlier enlisted law firm DLA Piper to conduct a review of foreign workers’ conditions.
That report called for an end of the sponsorship system known as kafala under which workers’ passport are often withheld.
The report offers some insight into how citizens from Nepal or Bangladesh fall victim to corrupt placement agents and pay prohibitive amounts of money to be allowed to go to Qatar where often they find their wages to be lower than promised but where they are often left without legal recourse.
“Many of the report’s findings are consistent with our research into abuses in the recruitment of migrant workers in Indonesia, India and Nepal,” said James Lynch, a researcher on migrant workers in the Gulf for Amnesty International.
“The critical need is for governments of destination countries like Qatar and countries of origin to work more effectively together to combat these practices and hold accountable those responsible for what can amount to human trafficking.”
With the report, Qatar appears to partially acknowledge some of the criticism directed at the country –it notably called for abuses of the kafala sponsorship system to be addressed– but at the same time shifts the focus of blame to the recruitment system in the countries that send out the workers.
“Critics of human and labor rights violations most often shift the blame to “Qatar” in a rather generic manner. Far less attention has been given to the violations by the migrants’ own nationals in their countries of origin in addition to those who are complicit in Qatar,” according to the report.
“Human and labor rights violations in the migration process begin prior to the migrant workers leaving their country and often appear to be either ignored by employers, or aided and abetted by employers, upon their arrival in Qatar,” it added.
Among several recommendations made in the report, the authors call on Qatar to introduce a minimum wage for construction workers, while standardizing recruitment practices and contracts. They also urge employers in Qatar to bear the recruitment costs and encourage the set-up of a Qatari government-led recruitment agency.
“A serious and systematic campaign needs to make clear to all countries of origin and those in Qatar that labor to Qatar must arrive debt-free and without having paid recruitment fees, costs and charges before departure or after arrival from their salaries,” the report said.