Human rights activist Peter Tatchell called on people to ‘boycott’ the 2022 World Cup as protesters gathered outside the Qatari embassy in London on Saturday to draw attention to the dangers faced by LGBTQ+ people, women, and migrant workers in the run up to the competition. Mr Tatchell described the World cup as ‘drenched in the blood of 6,500 migrant workers’ in a tweet on Sunday, as the first match of the tournament kicked off between Qatar and Ecuador.
Tatchell was joined by other groups, such as the 22 women who played football in the streets of London to protest the gender oppression of Iranian women. They called upon the England football team to raise awareness of Iran’s ‘gender apartheid’ during their match against Iran on Monday and joined Mr Tatchell’s calls for a boycott.
For the last ten years, Mr Tatchell has campaigned against the conditions faced by the two million Indian, Bangladeshi and Nepalese workers in Qatar that are ‘tantamount to modern slavery’, pointing to the slum conditions and abusive worker policies of the companies building the infrastructure necessary to support the worlds’ biggest sporting spectacle.
According to Human Rights Watch, approximately 6,500 workers died in Qatar from 2011 to 2021 with 70% of these deaths reported as being from ‘natural causes’: a catch-all for the myriad physical dangers facing people working 12-hour shifts in the desert heat.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported that workers spend up to 8% of their shift in a hyperthermic state, the danger zone where the body begins to shut down under extreme heat, often leading to acute heart and respiratory failure.
In 2020, under pressure from ILO, Qatar implemented wide-ranging labour reforms, including the abolition of the abusive kafala (‘sponsorship’) system. Under kafala, migrants are bound to an in-country sponsor, usually the company they work for, who controls their visa and immigration status. The system eradicates worker mobility and is rife with abuse; it is effectively impossible for migrants to change jobs, attain promotion or even leave Qatar and return home without the permission of their sponsor.
However, two years on, kafala’s abolition has opened the door to a new series of abusive practices according to Amnesty International’s 2022 report. The persistent non-payment of wages, the withholding of worker benefits and the confiscation of passports ensure that even in kafala’s absence, workers remain at the mercy of their employers and human rights abuses persist on a ‘significant scale’ today.
Speaking in front of the European Parliament, Minky Worden, Director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch, stated that the Qatari labour reforms ‘remain insufficient to fully prevent further abuses and thoroughly provide remedy for those that have occurred’.