Human Trafficking of Forced Labour in Qatar

Bojan Stanojcic

As the 2022 World Cup has been marred in controversy, the spectre of a human rights scandal looms large over the much-anticipated tournament.

As we prepare for the FIFA World Cup in 2022 set to take place in Qatar, the world turns a blind eye to the many thousands of male workers being exploited and trafficked in preparation for the international sporting event. This is in part due to the financial windfall the tournament is expected to generate and a further more sinister reason being the male victimisation that takes place within gendered understandings of human trafficking. Any moves made towards punishing Qatar and FIFA for utilising indentured male servants will ultimately impede progress for the FIFA World Cup. The other hidden element why the international community has failed to denounce Qatar and FIFA for human trafficking has to do with male victimisation. People and institutions often ignore human trafficking when it constitutes men because their struggle does not seem as severe as when women and children are trafficked.

The International Trade Union Confederation has estimated 1,200 deaths of migrant workers on construction sites in Qatar in recent years, and if the current trend continues the International Trade Union Confederation estimates that another 4,000 workers will die by 2022. According to the U.S Department of State’s 2015 Trafficking In Persons Report, labor trafficking encompasses a range of activities which constitute an infringement of a persons civil liberty, many of which take place in Qatar, including nonpayment of wages, indentured servitude and transporting and harbouring persons for the use of work.

First and foremost, Qatar will be hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and the economic benefits are expected to be enormous. As such, the Government of Qatar has done little to reform labor laws, which protect the rights of workers and diminish the potential for persons to be trafficked. The government has created conditions that are conducive to labor trafficking. The best example of this is the notorious kafala system where the migrant worker is placed under the authority of the employer rather than the state.

Preparation for the World Cup will require a significant amount of labor. FIFA and the Qatari government have done little to denounce the criminality and cruelty of the trafficking taking place under their watch; the FIFA World Cup carries potential for immense economic benefit for both FIFA and the Qatari government alike. Any move towards denouncing human trafficking will only impede progress on construction for the World Cup.

Even though large scale human trafficking is taking place, many view the spectacle and the legacy of this mega event as being greater than the widespread atrocities that are occurring. The human rights abuses arising from the trafficking of people simply do not take precedence when it comes to ensuring for the successful delivery of the FIFA World Cup. While it holds true that the spectacle of the FIFA World Cup and financial benefits it offers has resulted in little condemnation of the human trafficking taking place, there is also another issue, which is that of male victimisation according to a gendered lens of human trafficking.

Most people are repulsed and disgusted by the idea of utilising women and children for sex trafficking; yet labor trafficking, almost as pervasive, does not seem as shocking. In part this is because Labor trafficking usually involves men. Men are viewed as stronger and resilient than women so their plight is not viewed in the same light. This is a view that is consistent within our society where men cannot be seen as victims because there is a belief that they are physically stronger than women. This is also reflected in Qatar, where the trafficking of men for the purpose of forced labor has been occurring, yet it has gone largely unacknowledged and received little condemnation from the international community.

The Palermo protocols are three protocols that were adopted by the United Nations to supplement the 2000 Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.The Palermo protocol makes clear mention of women and children when it looks to prevent and suppress trafficking. Though it attempts to prevent human trafficking and protect all victims, Palermo has been criticised because there is very little to be said about men and the forced labor of men when it comes to trafficking. As a piece of legislation designed to safeguard human rights in human trafficking, the legislation contradicts itself by excluding men.

Male victimization is often invisible when it comes too human trafficking. Within western society, there is a view that men are stronger and more capable of looking after themselves. Traditional understandings of masculinity perpetuate the idea that men cannot be victims. On 4 April 2010, on CNN ‘Larry King Live’ aired a segment on human trafficking. Within it he described human trafficking as “Women and children, kidnapped, bought and sold into bondage”. Larry King’s glaring omission of men is consistent with the traditional view that men cannot be victims of human trafficking.

Females have suffered harm at the hands of men in society. The harm women endure from men serves as the basis for the belief that the trafficking of women is a more pertinent issue. Nepalese workers continue to die at alarming rates in Qatar due to the poor working and living conditions given to the migrants- a situation, which runs contrary to the widespread perception that males are invulnerable. Among the voices that protest these injustices are organisations such as Amnesty International and the International Labor Organisation. There is still very little done by the government of Qatar or FIFA. Men continue to suffer at alarming rates. In 2013 a petition signalled a petition calling on the Qatari government to make specific changes to migrant policy, which including the one right which allowed migrant workers to leave their jobs at will as in any other developed nation. Following the Nepalese earthquake, in 2015, which killed more than 8,000 people, Qatar refused to let workers return home to see their families. The government in Kathmandu placed pressure on FIFA to force Qatar to change its labor laws.

There are many signs of gender bias in making determinations of trafficked persons. Men who suffer exploitation, physical abuse and threats and many other things that trafficking carries could potentially not be viewed as trafficked persons. Research conducted in Serbia found a scenario where men and women were treated differently for trafficking. These men were physically trafficked and were subsequently charged with immigration violations, and on the other hand, the women were charged with the same violations but were also granted temporary residence. Countries that have begun to raise awareness of the trafficking of men have seen marked increased in the number of male identified victims. In Uzbekistan, the number of male victims has increased to the point that in recent years male victims who were identified were greater than the number of female victims. Case studies such as Uzbekistan illustrate how in situations were cultures and societies begin to accept the prevalence of male trafficking undergo changes to combat this endemic problem.

In Qatar thousands of men have been smuggled into the country where they work in slave-like conditions as indentured servants in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. There exist conditions they are forced to endure such as lack of mobility, removal of passports and nonpayment of wages that are textbook examples of human trafficking according to both the U.S Department of State Trafficking in Person’s Report and the Palermo protocol. The international community has failed to acknowledge their plight. It is imperative that the global community move towards redefining their understandings of trafficked persons so that those working in Qatar are alleviated from exploitation and potential death already experienced by 1,200 workers in dangerous conditions.