Qatar Importing Slaves For World Cup? Amnesty Reveals Forced Labor In New Report

Justin Streight

Migrant workers building facilities for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar face brutal conditions, and in some cases forced labor, according to a new study from Amnesty International. Qatari officials are fighting the claims, saying the World Cup is a catalyst for labor reforms in the Middle Eastern country, not a source of exploitation. Likewise, FIFA, still reeling from its own scandals, is claiming it's dedicated to improving conditions for the workers.

According to the Associated Press, the report includes interviews with 132 construction workers at the Khalifa International Stadium conducted from February to May last year. Likewise, the researchers interviewed 99 migrant workers engaged in landscaping work for the games.

The report is full of personal accounts, like this one from a metalworker on Khalifa International Stadium.

"My life here is like a prison. The work is difficult, we worked for many hours in the hot sun. When I first complained about my situation, soon after arriving in Qatar, the manager said 'if you [want to] complain you can but there will be consequences. If you want to stay in Qatar be quiet and keep working'. Now I am forced to stay in Qatar and continue working."

Many of the workers -- who come largely from India, Bangladesh, and Nepal -- paid excessive fees to recruiters, sometimes up to $4,500, only to find out their salaries in Qatar are much lower than expected. Some reported making less than $200 a month plus another $50 for food.

Qatar has been under scrutiny for its labor conditions since it first won the right to host the World Cup, but the Amnesty International report is particularly disturbing, reporting forced labor, or as the Guardian put it: "Qatar's World Cup 'Slaves.'"

The Amnesty report says all instances of forced labor were workers employed by "a small labor supply company," a company that recruited for other companies working to build the World Cup facilities. The stories were often the same: the workers would say they've had enough of the working conditions or the lack of pay, and they said they were ready to leave.

The bosses would threaten to withhold their salaries indefinitely if they didn't resume working and would never allow them to leave. In at least one case, the manager threatened to call the police if the workers tried to escape.

As the report explained, migrant workers in Qatar need a sponsor. If the employee wants to change jobs or leave, they need permission from that person or organization. Since the migrants often need their salaries to provide for their families, they are further compelled to work in harsh conditions.

"The tone of Amnesty International's latest assertions paint a misleading picture and do nothing to contribute to our efforts. We have always maintained this World Cup will act as a catalyst for change — it will not be built on the back of exploited workers. We wholly reject any notion that Qatar is unfit to host the World Cup."

There have been allegations that Qatar bribed members of FIFA to secure the World Cup games according to the BBC, but the country and FIFA deny any wrongdoing. The full Amnesty International report, titled The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game, can be found here.

[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]