DOHA (AFP) - The Chairman of Qatar's National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) on Monday denied claims by the Guardian newspaper that the 2022 World Cup organisers were treating Nepalese construction workers like 'slaves'.
Ali Al-Marri said the allegations, made last week, were totally erroneous.
"There is no slavery or forced labour in Qatar," he said at a press conference.
"The information that The Guardian reported is false and the numbers cited by them are exaggerated." The Guardian report last Thursday said dozens of Nepalese workers have died while working in Qatar in recent weeks, raising concerns about the Gulf state's preparations to host the World Cup.
Quoting documents obtained by the Nepalese embassy in the Qatari capital Doha, the Guardian said thousands of Nepalese - at 370,000 the second largest group of labourers in Qatar after the Indians - faced exploitation and abuses amounting to "modern-day slavery".
Marri admitted there had been some problems but added he and the government were doing their utmost to put these right.
"There have been some problems, owing to the fact that there are 44,000 businesses in the country," he said.
"But I can assure you that the authorities are constantly making efforts to resolve the problems." Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, who has seen the documents presented by the newspaper, told AFP last Thursday the evidence was "certainly highly indicative of a brutal working environment which is not good for anybody."
However, Narinra Bad, the co-ordinator of the Nepalese community in the Middle East, was also present at Monday's press conference and he too disputed the figures the Guardian gave.
"151 Nepalese citizens have died in Qatar this year including 15 at their workplace," he said, adding the rest had died either in car accidents or of natural causes.
"In 2012, Nepalese deaths in Qatar numbered 276, including 55, that is 20 per cent, at their workplace." Bad said that Nepalese workers in Qatar were no worse off than in the rest of the Gulf states.
"We cannot say that the working conditions are exemplary, and the Nepalese citizens have the challenges of finding housing, obtaining visas and being paid." Ali Ahmad Al-Khalifi, advisor on international relations to the Qatari Ministry of Work, told AFP that as a result of the Guardian article they were going to double the number of Work Inspectors to 150 in order that no abuses of workers takes place in the future.
For its part the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ITUC) estimated that at the rate of deaths on building works in Qatar, at least 4000 workers will die even before the World Cup begins.
The ITUC is due to send a delegation to Qatar on October 7 in order to observe the working conditions for migrants in the country.