DOHA (AFP) - Amnesty International on Monday criticised "alarming" exploitation of construction workers in Qatar, urging it to seize the opportunity of hosting the 2022 World Cup to demonstrate its commitment to human rights.
In a report, it also urged world football governing body Fifa to press the Gulf state to improve the conditions of foreign labourers, most of whom are Asian.
Doha rejects claims of slavery-style conditions on its construction sites in the world's wealthiest nation per capita.
"Our findings indicate an alarming level of exploitation in the construction sector in Qatar," said Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty, calling abuses "widespread" and "not isolated cases".
"Fifa has a duty to send a strong public message that it will not tolerate human rights abuses on construction projects related to the World Cup."
After meeting Qatar's emir and prime minister on November 9 in Doha, Fifa chief Sepp Blatter said the issue of working conditions was being addressed.
Mr Shetty told reporters Sunday Amnesty has met officials who were "very willing to recognise that there is a problem and... strongly oriented to find solutions".
After embarking on a multi-billion-dollar plan to host the 2022 World Cup, Qatar has come under the spotlight as migrant workers pour into the tiny gas-rich nation.
Mr Shetty said this attention offers Doha "a unique chance to demonstrate on a global stage that they are serious about their commitment to human rights and can act as a role model to the rest of the region".
The plight of migrant workers remains an issue across the oil-rich Gulf.
Amnesty's report - The Dark Side Of Migration: Spotlight On Qatar's Construction Sector Ahead Of The World Cup - documented several abuses.
These include "non-payment of wages, harsh and dangerous working conditions, and shocking standards of accommodation".
The London-based watchdog said "dozens" of migrant workers have been trapped inside Qatar, which demands that foreigners obtain an exit permit to leave.
'Blackmailed by employers'
Workers whose passports were held by sponsors were blackmailed by employers to sign papers in the presence of government officials falsely stating they had been paid, Amnesty said.
The system under which an employee must be sponsored by an individual or a firm applies in most Gulf states, leaving expats at the mercy of sponsors.
On Sunday, Mr Shetty told reporters his team in Doha on Friday met "a group of 70 workers" from Nepal, Sri Lanka and other nationalities who said they "have not been paid for nine to 10 months".
"It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive," he said.
Many workers have also reported poor health and safety standards, said Amnesty.
It cited an unnamed Doha hospital representative as saying that "more than 1,000 people were admitted to the trauma unit in 2012 (after) having fallen from height at work".
Some 10 per cent became disabled and "the mortality rate was 'significant'." A September report in Britain's Guardian newspaper said 44 Nepalis have died working in Qatar this year. Amnesty did not confirm the figure.
Some abused labourers worked for subcontractors employed by global firms, Amnesty alleged.
It reported one case in which workers of a company "delivering critical supplies to a construction project associated with the planned Fifa headquarters during the 2022 World Cup were subjected to serious labour abuses." They had to work up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, it said.
"Unless critical, far-reaching steps are taken immediately, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who will be recruited in the coming years to deliver Qatar's vision face a high risk of being abused," Mr Shetty warned.
Qatar has the highest ratio of migrants to citizens in the world.
Approximately 88 per cent of the total population are foreign workers, according to the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr Francois Crepeau.