Amnesty accuses Qatar of worker abuse

DOHA • Qatar World Cup stadium workers have suffered abuse and been subjected to forced labour, Amnesty International said.

The London-based watchdog said labourers at the Khalifa International Stadium, mostly from Bangladesh, India and Nepal, were lied to over their salaries, went unpaid for months and were housed in squalid accommodation, which it claims amounts to forced labour.

Seven workers at the venue were even prevented from returning home to help their families after Nepal's devastating 2015 earthquake.

"This is a World Cup based on labour exploitation," said Amnesty's Mustafa Qadri.

The poor treatment of construction workers is one of the major issues that has dogged the Gulf state since the controversial decision to award it the right to host football's flagship tournament.

The 51-page report, "The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game", is likely to increase international criticism of Qatar and put fresh pressure on Fifa and its new leadership, as well as World Cup sponsors.

The criticisms also extend to landscaping at the nearby Aspire Zone, a world-renowned sports complex where Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich trained this year.

Amnesty said it carried out its research for a year until February and interviewed 234 men. It claimed 228 said the wages they received were lower than promised. Many had no choice but to accept reduced salaries as they had paid debt-inducing recruitment fees of up to US$4,300 (S$5,782) to enter the Gulf, even though such fees are illegal under Qatari law.

Qatar was quick to respond to the report, pointing out the steps it has taken to improve practices. It said Amnesty's claims painted "a misleading picture" and were aimed at only four of the 40 companies working at the Khalifa Stadium.

One group of men told Amnesty that a labour supply company, Seven Hills, had not paid staff for months. Workers at the 40,000-seat stadium and Aspire Zone were also initially put in sub-standard and overcrowded accommodation, said Amnesty.

"In one case, the main entrance to the camp was flooded due to inadequate drainage and smelled of raw sewage," the report said.

Qatar's government said in a statement that it was "concerned by a number of allegations" made by Amnesty and would investigate.

Qatar currently employs about 5,100 workers on World Cup sites. Their number will peak at 36,000 by 2018.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2016, with the headline 'Amnesty accuses Qatar of worker abuse'. Print Edition | Subscribe