Amidst the media and NGO uproar of the number of deaths of migrant workers on the construction sites in Qatar (likely to swell to 4000 by 2022 world cup), In response the Qataris have issued standards that it said will ensure that migrant workers, arriving in their 1000s to build the stadiums, would be given some human rights protection.
What about the commercial practicality?
The resulting documents are extensive. The Workers Welfare Standards by the Qatari Senior Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), for example, is a whopping 53 pages long.
It requires that certain human rights are met.
Basic rights,that is, like:
• being paid for work completed
• not having your passport confiscated
• being taken to a doctor when poorly
• having a written contract that sets out what job you will do
This is a minimum to be expected, but the standards don’t stop there. The detailed outline for accommodation and transportation, recruitment of workers through agencies are so lengthy, that a number of Qatari based companies are saying that they will never be able to implement the standards.
So what’s the point of having them? Have the SC not missed a vital opportunity to be able to have set standards that tackled discrimination and practices that were clearly in breach of human rights but in a practical way that companies could actually adopt them? Should they also have considered how the standards could be applied to ALL construction projects in Qatar?
The steps taken by the Qataris can be seen as a step in the right direction but one should not lose sight of the fact that only a few companies will win the tenders to demolish and rebuild or simply rebuild stadiums. Those that don’t’ it would seem can continue to behave as they normally do.
Amnesty International produced a scathing report on the state of migrant workers in Qatar in November 2013. It also highlighted that the standards would not apply to thousands of other migrant workers including those that build the wider infrastructure to support the hosting of the world cup.
It would seem that for the rest of the workers it’s all in the luck of the draw – the more reputable companies will have some kind of employment and health and safety policies in place. But surely the requirement to ensure that migrant workers are protected shouldn’t be limited solely to the delivery of the world cup stadiums?
The other real issue is one of enforcement. No doubt there will be penalties built into contracts for failure to comply with the standards. How will the SC ensure compliance with such an extensive list of requirements? Is there a genuine intention to?
What about the rights of workers not involved in FIFA?
There has been little talk of FIFA or the key sponsors getting involved to influence what is going on. Migrant workers represent around 88% of Qatar’s 1.9 m residents, with the numbers expecting to increase further. Although the press has made comments on FIFA in Qatar, no report has yet been produced by FIFA on whether and how it is monitoring the improvement of working conditions. What’s wrong with an onsite visit/ audit? Surely most responsible organisations would behave in this way?
Whilst we are at it: spare a thought for the workers in Brazil. The 2014 World Cup is just months away and the continued shambles and death toll seems to have been forgotten. Again, where is FIFA?
Creating a set of standards that require companies to ensure that their workers are properly looked after should be built into the business practices and policies of every company. The fact is they are not. Here was an opportunity to provide leadership for the construction sector internationally. Not only has this failed but the unfortunate situation in Qatar is likely to continue.
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