Trade unionists have used the COP18 discussions in Qatar to bring the silent but disturbing plight of migrant workers to light. While the emirate boasts about its plans to build a bevy of solar-powered stadiums in advance of the 2022 World Cup in addition to a host of other eco-boosting projects, very little has been said about who is going to do the work. Like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Saudi Arabia, Qatar relies very heavily on migrant workers, who do all the dirty work but receive few of the benefits of their hard, miserable labor.
Workers from Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines make up a staggering 70% of the population and 94% of the labor force, The Guardian reports.
But they only earn, on average, about $300 per month – compared to the Qatari’s average earnings of $2,140 per month. What’s more, they are completely divested of all personal freedom upon entering into any employment contracts.
Their passports are confiscated, they frequently work more than a dozen hours a day – often seven days a week, and their living conditions are appalling.
“Migrants have no voice to demand better conditions, since they are prohibited by law from creating or joining trade unions,” the non profit group Equal Times explained in a recent report.
“This is a violation of the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Yet, there are some companies involved in the 2022 FIFA World Cup which claim to be committed to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR),” the report continues.
Deutsche Bank is among the companies that want to be seen as upholding their moral obligation to ensure that the workers who lay the foundations and swelter in the hot sun are walking away with a decent wage, but they appear to be hiding behind their own self-deception.
“DB management seems concerned about codes of conduct,” write the report’s authors, “but they define their responsibilities as ‘within the sphere of their influence,’ which virtually excludes their contractors and sub-contractors from any accusation of violating labour rights.”
“Moreover, they promise to comply with the legislation of the country of operation, but in a country such as Qatar this can result in the economic and general exploitation of migrant workers.”
But what does this have to do with climate change? As it turns out, quite a bit, because as temperatures rise and water becomes more scarce in the Middle East, workers in the region will face even more arduous work days.
Qatar has deliberately positioned itself on center stage, both with the ongoing climate talks in Doha and the 2022 World Cup, in order to bolster its “brand” as a forward-thinking leader in the “green” sector. But unionists are grabbing the opportunity to shine a spotlight on the shadows as well.
Every time the ruling Al-Thani family launches some new swanky “green” program, it is useful to remember whose blood, sweat and tears are bringing it to fruition.
Image of migrant workers in Thailand, Shutterstock