from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Slave Labor in Qatar: A Test for Al Jazeera

September 26, 2013

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Qatar will be the host of the 2022 World Cup, and has underway what may total $100 billion in construction projects.

But the tiny emirate has a tiny native population, and 90% of those living there are foreigners. It is foreign laborers who will build all these new roads, stadiums, hotels, and the like, and it now emerges that they live and work in misery. The Guardian of London now reports a story entitled  "Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ’Slaves.’"

The Guardian says this about working conditions:

This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery....

The Guardian’s investigation also found men throughout the wider Qatari construction industry sleeping 12 to a room in places and getting sick through repulsive conditions in filthy hostels. Some say they have been forced to work without pay and left begging for food.

"The evidence uncovered by the Guardian is clear proof of the use of systematic forced labour in Qatar," said Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, which was founded in 1839. "In fact, these working conditions and the astonishing number of deaths of vulnerable workers go beyond forced labour to the slavery of old where human beings were treated as objects. There is no longer a risk that the World Cup might be built on forced labour. It is already happening."

The ambassador of Nepal, from which about 100,000 workers have gone to Qatar, called the emirate an "open jail" due to its disrespect for the rights of foreign workers.

The official Qatari response to The Guardian simply says that Qatari law protects everyone. On the issue of the young Nepalese men dying of heart attacks while laboring in Qatar its reply is chilly:

Q. Why do so many young Nepalese die of heart attacks?

A. This question would be better suited for the relevant health authorities or the government of Nepal.

Now this is an interesting story, and FIFA, the international body ruling the World Cup, will have to pay it some attention, as will the International Labor Organization.

But will Al Jazeera? Al Jazeera is owned by the Emir of Qatar, and never has covered Qatari matters fairly--if at all. A story embarrassing to the country, and to the Emir, is almost certain to be ignored--especially in the main Al Jazeera broadcasting in Arabic. Now there is a new station, a chic and sleek Al Jazeera America (built on the carcass of Al Gore’s failed TV network). AJ America has new names and bright colors, and claims to be unbiased, and free, and not just a cat’s paw for the Emir.

OK, this is a test. Can Al Jazeera and Al Jazeera America can cover this story fairly?

As they say in Arabic, vamos a ver. But as they say in English, don’t hold your breath.


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