Migrant workers, modern-day slavery? Qatar recognizes need to change controversial 'kafala' system

Published May 5th, 2015 - 07:38 GMT

The Qatari labor minister has expressed “hope” that the Persian Gulf Arab state would abolish its controversial “kafala” system, which has widely been censured as modern-day slavery, amid rising international condemnations.

The shaky pledge by Abdullah bin Saleh al-Khulaifi came on Monday after kafala, long decried by human rights organizations, emerged as a major focus of global criticism since the tiny oil-rich nation was awarded the hosting of 2022 football World Cup competitions and its labor laws came under growing international scrutiny.

Under the kafala system, employers in the kingdom can prevent its mostly foreign-based labor force from changing jobs or even leaving the country.

"We discussed it, our stakeholders have looked at it ... Now it is on track,” Khulaifi claimed, adding, "We know that things aren't perfect, but they are better than they were a year ago and I promise you they will be better a year from now."

However, human rights organizations have repeatedly accused Qatar of dragging its feet on its labor law reforms, insisting that not enough is being done to investigate the effect of working long hours in temperatures that often exceed 50C.

Last year it was reported that Nepalese migrants building Qatar’s infrastructure to host the 2022 World Cup had died at a rate of one every two days in 2014 – despite the kingdom’s promises to improve their working conditions.

According to the report by the UK-based daily Guardian, the figure excludes deaths of Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers, raising fears that if fatalities among all migrants were taken into account, the toll would almost certainly be more than one a day.

Qatar is engaged in massive construction of infrastructure ahead of the 2022 football world cup

The report further underlined that there are nearly 400,000 Nepalese workers in Qatar among the 1.4 million migrants working on a £137 billion construction spree in the tiny Persian Gulf state.

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