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Dispatches: Qatar’s Labor Reforms Fall Short
February 11, 2014

The Qatar Supreme Committee, the body charged with delivering the Gulf state’s 2022 World Cup, this morning released its Workers’ Welfare Standards. In this detailed 50-page document, the committee outlines how it intends to ensure the basic rights of foreign migrant workers involved in select projects related to the construction of stadiums and associated infrastructure. (Another quasi-governmental body, the Qatar Foundation, released a similar set of standards in April 2013.)

These are creditable efforts to raise standards, but they do not go nearly far enough in a country with such a dismal record on workers’ rights.

If the Supreme Committee can enforce its regulations – and it’s a big “if” –  they would provide workers on projects under their purview with living and working conditions significantly better than those recently documented by Human Rights Watch, the Guardian newspaper and Amnesty International. The codes would eradicate illegal recruitment fees, require companies to provide decent housing, and ensure workers keep hold of their passports. It would be churlish not to recognize this as a small step in the right direction.

But it would be credulous to regard this as a long-term solution to very serious problems in Qatar and the rest of the Gulf. The new standards don’t ensure a worker’s rights to change employers, leave the country, or bargain collectively for better pay and conditions. And the standards will impact only a small fraction of migrant workers in Qatar, excluding even some of those serving the World Cup, such as the construction workers building the hotels where fans will stay, or the taxi drivers who will shuttle tourists around the capital, Doha. The standards don’t alter the fact that, more than three years after Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, Qatar’s legal and regulatory framework still facilitates the trafficking and forced labor of migrant workers.

Qatar’s labor system needs a major overhaul, not a minor makeover. Reform should be led by the relevant government authorities, not the World Cup delivery committee, and it should address all migrant workers in the country, not just those who will build futuristic stadiums.