The United Nations has urged Qatar to abolish a sponsorship system that ties migrant workers to their employers, following concerns over the exploitation of construction and domestic workers.
Delegates at the UN Human Rights Council, which is reviewing Qatar’s record, raised concerns on Wednesday about the treatment of workers.
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Several of the 84 states that spoke during the session connected Qatar’s hosting the 2022 World Cup with a need for the country to reform its laws.
At the moment, it's mostly talk and we've yet to see real substance.
“There are widespread reports of violations of the rights of migrant workers, especially in the context of preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup,” Ireland’s representative said in a statement.
Activists have accused Qatar of forcing construction workers to live in squalor and work under poor safety conditions on some building sites.
Amnesty International also said that a number of domestic workers were subjected to physical and sexual abuse by their employers.
And the London-based Guardian newspaper reported in February that more than 500 Indian migrant workers have died while working in Qatar since 2012.
The Kafala system, which requires all foreign workers to be sponsored by their employers, makes it difficult for people working in Qatar to change jobs or leave the country without an exit permit.
The ‘right direction’
Khalid Bin Jassim Al Thani, from the department of human rights at Qatar’s foreign ministry, responded to the concerns raised at Wednesday’s UN meeting by saying that countries that host major international events were always “facing the spotlight”.
|Qatar vows reforms of sponsorship system
“What we have heard today really gives us the confidence that we are in the right direction and on the right track,” Al Thani said.
“The commitment is very strong, but one has to also balance the requirements and the responsibility on the basis that we are talking about a developing nation, which needs to meet its most important obligations and gradually move into the next level,” he said.
But Michael Stephens, the deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar, told Al Jazeera that there had been more discussion than change.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about what might change…what kind of implementations we might see in terms of enforcing labour rights: stepping up inspections, holding certain companies to account that break the laws,” Stephens said.
“At the moment, it’s mostly talk and we’ve yet to see real substance.”
Like Al Thani, Stephens told Al Jazeera that Qatar was still a developing nation, so it could take time to implement change.
“It’s quite a top-heavy government. So some of this legislation and some of these ideas take a while to filter down to the bottom,” he said.