Nepalis among workers exploited in Qatar’s high-end hotels set up for FIFA World CupStudy shows luxury hotel brands have failed to protect migrant workers, who suffer serious abuses, including exorbitant recruitment fees, discrimination and being trapped in a job through fear of reprisal and intimidation.
In the run-up to the biggest showdown of football, the FIFA World Cup 2022, abuse of migrant workers including Nepalis has once again surfaced in Qatar, the Persian Gulf nation that hosts the football extravaganza.
A recent report published by Business & Human Rights, an international agency working to advance human rights in business and eradicate abuses, has collected evidence of migrants facing various forms of abuse in luxury hotels in the country.
The report released on Wednesday highlighted that luxury hotel brands are failing to take action to protect migrant workers against labour rights abuse ahead of the World Cup in Qatar.
According to the report, workers employed in those high-end world cup hotels have been facing exploitation starting from the recruitment phase to working in the country in the build-up to the FIFA World Cup 2022.
All this has continued to take place even after the football world cup hosting nation has promised massive reforms in recent years for protecting labour force building the infrastructure for the event.
In what was defined as a historic move, Qatar, a top labour destination for Nepalis, adopted its Law No. 18 of 2020, which would allow migrant workers the freedom to change their jobs even before their contracts end without first having to obtain a no-objection certificate from their employers.
“Workers’ testimony has clearly shown that whatever the promises the State of Qatar and multinational companies claimed to have made for protecting workers are either not implemented or only in place for the sake of showing,” Barun Ghimire, lawyer and one of the contributors to the report, told the Post.
“Workers were not even aware of any such policies or arrangements. Most of them told us that they were not able to change their current jobs and move elsewhere freely. Qatar’s pledged policies have not reached the ground to benefit workers.”
Qatar has been massively upgrading or building new infrastructure targeting the global football event. In a bid to manage the expected influx of players, supporters and the media, the hotel industry in the Gulf state has seen exponential growth, with an additional 26,000 hotel rooms being built in time for the World Cup, according to the report.
However, hotel brands failed to take necessary action to protect migrant workers, who suffer serious abuses, including exorbitant recruitment fees, discrimination and being trapped in a job through fear of reprisal and intimidation, the study concluded.
“The FIFA World Cup 2022 is one of the most anticipated sporting events in the world, but little attention is paid to the plight of workers who toil behind the scenes,” said Isobel Archer, Gulf Programme Manager, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, in its press release. “This research should be a wake-up call to national football teams, corporate sponsors and the one million visitors set to enjoy a month of football in Qatar in November 2022.”
Over the years, Qatar has invited massive international criticism for the ill-treatment of migrants who are building the required infrastructure for the much-awaited sporting event in the Gulf state.
In June last year, Amnesty International found that dozens of migrant workers from several countries, including Nepal, working for a FIFA World Cup stadium project in Qatar were unpaid for several months.
The Human Rights Watch, another rights group, in a report in August 2020, said as the World Cup event draws closer, Qatar has made little progress in protecting migrant workers on its soil despite its commitments.
An investigation by the Guardian, published in February 2021, showed that nearly 6,500 migrant workers from the South Asian countries, including as many as 1,641 Nepalis, lost their lives since the country won the right to host the World Cup 10 years ago.
An average of 12 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died every week since the night in December 2010 when Qatar was named the host nation for FIFA World Cup 2022, the British paper reported.
The latest report of abuse of migrants in its hospitality sector once again exposed that not much had changed for migrant workers in the country despite its commitment to improving the conditions of migrant workers.
“With a little over a year before the tournament kicks off, Qatar’s hospitality sector and its FIFA business partners are failing the very people that football stars and fans alike will depend upon,” said Mustafa Qadri, executive director of Equidem, another human rights organisation which was part of the study. “The Covid-19 pandemic has already had a massive impact, costing lives and livelihoods. Many of the practices Equidem has documented in collaboration with the Resource Centre may indicate forced labour and modern slavery.”
As part of the study, the Resource Centre invited 19 hotel companies to participate in a survey scoring them on their approach to safeguarding migrant workers’ rights. The surveyed companies represent more than 100 global brands with over 80 properties across Qatar which are gearing up to host football fans in November 2022.
In the second survey of its kind conducted by the Resource Centre, all hotel brands which responded scored below 50 percent, with none awarded a rating of more than three stars (out of five).
According to the report, their answers revealed they were not undertaking meaningful human rights due diligence to prevent migrant workers from suffering systemic abuses, including excessive recruitment fees, discrimination and being trapped in jobs through fear and intimidation.
Although 11 of 19 brands (58 percent) participated in the survey compared with seven out of 17 (41 percent) in 2018, eight high-profile brands, including Best Western, Four Seasons and Millennium & Copthorne, failed to respond to the survey.
According to Qadri, international hotel brands, FIFA and the Qatar authorities must act quickly to remedy and prevent this labour exploitation.
“There is simply no excuse for luxury hotels failing to protect workers from exploitation in one of the richest countries in the world as it gears to host the richest sporting tournament on the planet,” he added.
The research also included interviews with 18 workers, including seven Nepalis, from East Africa, South Asia and South-East Asia at hotels in Qatar, which revealed a shocking contrast between hotels’ public policy commitments and what workers are experiencing on the ground.
“In news channel and media, I have heard it is free to change the job, but I have heard from some of my colleagues that they are having difficulties changing jobs,” a receptionist from Nepal told the researchers. “Some of them fear they will lose their jobs.”
The report gathered that exploitative recruitment practices were one of the most serious areas of risk faced by migrant workers employed in those hotels.
Eight of 18 workers interviewed said they had paid recruitment fees. Eight of the 11 responding brands either did not provide any data or said they had not detected any instances of recruitment fees while simultaneously failing to outline robust mechanisms to safeguard against fee-charging.
“I had to pay QAR 7,000 ($1922.55) for visa and ticket fees for the agent,” another receptionist from Nepal, employed in one of the luxury hotels, told the researcher.
Another restaurant worker from Nepal at a non-responding brand said: “Yes, we do not get our salary on time. I haven’t gotten my salary for the past three months. They even pay salaries differently to us. We are only paid 25 percent of what Qataris get paid for the same job.”
Almost all the workers employed in hotels revealed at least some issues with changing jobs, ranging from not being allowed to break their contract to fear of intimidation and reprisal, including deportation if they requested transfer.
The Resource Centre, through its investigation, also found that workers’ voices were severely suppressed, effectively masking labour rights abuses.
Ghimire, who is also a migration expert at the Law and Policy Forum for Social Justice, a Kathmandu-based organisation that works on migrant rights issues, said some workers also faced payment wise discrimination only because of their nationality as others were treated and paid better while working for the same company.
“Qatari authorities and employer’s commitment towards the protection of foreign workers is not as good as they have projected it. Workers were even complacent with their conditions which is the failure of not making them aware,” said Ghimire.
“Workers were sceptical about policies, for instance, the freedom of changing jobs. They showed a lack of trust in promised improvements. If the targeted groups do not show confidence in policies brought out to them, then it does not mean much, and it can be understood that they were not well informed.”