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Qatar Yet to Deliver on Labor Reform: Amnesty

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Doha claims it is committed to improving lives of migrant workers and has made significant headway in past year.

Qatar, the host for the Football 2022 World Cup, is “failing” many of its migrant workers by not delivering on labor law reform, Amnesty International claimed on Thursday.

In the latest of a string of reports on Qatari labor “abuse,” the rights watchdog said Doha had not followed through on promises to change laws governing workers in key areas including the “kafala” system that blocks workers from leaving the country and curbs on changing employers.

In its latest briefing, Promising Little, Delivering Less: Qatar and Migrant Labor Abuse Ahead of the 2022 Football World Cup, Amnesty said the pace of change is too slow. This puts Doha’s reform promises in danger of being seen as a “mere public relations stunt to ensure the Gulf state can cling on to the 2022 World Cup.”

There are up to an estimated one million migrant laborers currently working in Qatar. Amnesty’s Mustafa Qadri said: “Last year the government made promises to improve migrant labor rights in Qatar, but in practice, there have been no significant advances. The lack of a clear roadmap of targets and benchmarks for reform leaves serious doubts about Qatar’s commitment to tackling migrant labor abuse.”

Amnesty listed nine “fundamental” areas for reform and said Doha has managed only “limited progress” in five, and none at all in four. It criticized Qatar for not meeting a target of having 300 labor inspectors in place by the end of last year and for the slow introduction of an electronic wage protection system.

“With Qatar’s construction boom continuing and the migrant worker population set to expand to 2.5 million, the need for urgent reform is more pressing than ever,” said Qadri.

Amnesty also called on football’s world governing body FIFA to put more pressure on Qatar to change.

However Doha, which has found itself at the center of an international storm over its labor practices, said its commitment to reform was genuine. “Significant changes have been made over the last year to improve the rights and conditions of expatriate workers,” read a statement released Thursday by Qatar’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. “No one should be in any doubt that we are committed to effective and sustainable change.”

Among the changes made in the past 12 months, argues the ministry, is the introduction of an electronic wage protection system and promised accommodation improvements for more than 250,000 workers. The ministry added it now had a total of 294 inspectors. This would increase to 400 by the end of the year. It added that “the promotion and protection of human rights, including the rights of expatriate workers” was at the heart of Qatar’s economic and social policies.

The ministry also pointed to the more than $12 billion sent home by laborers in 2014, “considerably more than they would earn at home.”

Amnesty’s report added to the sense of siege surrounding Qatar. On Wednesday World Cup sponsors, including Visa and Coca-Cola, pressed FIFA to improve labor conditions. “We continue to be troubled by the reports coming out of Qatar related to the World Cup and migrant worker conditions,” credit card giant Visa said, adding it had expressed its “grave concern” directly to FIFA.

It all caps a turbulent week for Qatar and there may be further trouble ahead. On Monday, it emerged that a team of four BBC journalists invited to Qatar to examine laborers’ living conditions had been arrested and held without charge.

FIFA is due to hold a meeting next month that could see a resolution tabled to remove the World Cup from Qatar because of the slow pace of reforms.

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