Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Forced labor in Qatar

Qatar is ranked the richest country in the world (based on income per capita) with an economy based entirely on petroleum & natural gas exports. While it has the juridical stature of a nation-state it is indistinguishable from a feudal fiefdom, complete with absolute monarchy. There are no elections, no parliament, & in its one redeeming feature, no politicians. As the monstrous progeny of British colonialism after the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, it is allowed “independence” for docile service to the new empire of barbarism & plunder known as neoliberalism.

In obsequious service to colonialism, Qatar hosts an air base which is the hub for all US-NATO air operations in the Gulf. It played a significant military role in the 1991 Persian Gulf War (including providing tanks), served as the US Central Command headquarters in the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, allows the US-NATO to use an air base to send supplies to Iraq & Afghanistan, joined NATO operations in Libya, was a bankroller of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, & is a major arms provider for rebel groups in the Syrian civil war.

Qatar consciously cultivates a progressive image & has hosted several conferences for academics, religious, & political figures to discuss democracy, media & information technology, & free trade issues. But you can go to jail for calling the king a bad name. It pretends to broker peace between rival factions across the globe as in Afghanistan & Darfur. You can see how well that’s working (especially since the US wasn't included). It bankrolls Al Jazeera but censors national media. It pompously holds a seat on the UN Human Rights Council but has formulated human rights & labor laws that exclude women & immigrant workers. It has no mandated minimum wage so it can use forced & trafficked labor without impediment.

The number of Qatar citizens is 250,000 people out of a population of 1,900,000 people. The 250,000 of course includes seniors, children, disabled, & feudal freeloaders. The fief doesn’t have any working class (or serfs) so 94% of the workforce that make it the richest country in the world are migrant workers from other Arab countries, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, & the Philippines.

FIFA has selected Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. Qatar’s winning bid included commitments to build nine stadiums, a new airport, metro & rail systems, new roads, a causeway connecting Qatar to Bahrain, 54 team camps, & 55,000 new hotel rooms at an estimated cost of $100 billion USD. They will have to recruit an estimated 1.5 million more foreign workers to construct this infrastructure.

Migrant workers on the FIFA projects report extensive labor abuse including forced labor, indentured servitude, human trafficking, late or unpaid wages, physical assault & coercion, confiscated passports & failure to provide work permits which thereby reduce workers to illegal status & make it impossible for them to leave, overcrowded, filthy, & squalid labor camps, no access to potable water in desert heat, dangerous work conditions, & a high death rate due to dehydration & malnutrition. Autopsies on the deceased (most of them very young men) are often not conducted but are routinely attributed to heart failure. Embassies report that thousands of workers are complaining to them of these abuses & hundreds of foreign workers are dying at the rate of 600 a year from the harsh work & living conditions. The Nepalese ambassador to Qatar called the emirate an “open jail.”

And FIFA? They’ve already been exposed in Brazil for their flagrant disregard of human rights & are still doing damage control there. Their representative claims FIFA is “absolutely appalled & disturbed” at labor abuse in Qatar & they promise to hold all contractors working on construction in Qatar to a code of conduct. No one should be so credulous as to hold their breath on promises coming out of FIFA. The World Cup is a playground for the ruling elite to gather; they don’t run their parties any more humanely than they do their plunder--& in fact the two have become indistinguishable.

In this photo, Dalli Kahtri & her husband, Lil Man from Nepal hold photos of their sons who both died working as migrant workers, one in Malaysia & the other in Qatar. Their younger son (in the photo held by Kahtri) died in Qatar from a heart attack at the age of 20. They want answers, they want accountability. They don’t want FIFA’s phony outrage

Support immigrant rights! Support labor rights for immigrants!

(Photo by Peter Pattison/Guardian UK)

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