Category: slavery


Revelations of mistreatment of maids and cleaners add to picture of widespread labour abuse in World Cup host nation

 

 

Qatari women with maid

Qatari women with their children and housemaid strolling in Doha. Photograph: Stock Connection/REX

 

Foreign maids, cleaners and other domestic workers are being subjected to slave-like labour conditions in Qatar, with many complaining they have been deprived of passports, wages, days off, holidays and freedom to move jobs, a Guardian investigation can reveal.

Hundreds of Filipino maids have fled to their embassy in recent months because conditions are so harsh. Many complain of physical and sexual abuse, harassment, long periods without pay and the confiscation of mobile phones.

The exploitation raises further concerns about labour practices in Qatar in advance of the World Cup, after Guardian reports about the treatment of construction workers. The maids are not directly connected to Qatar’s preparations for the football tournament, but domestic workers will play a big role in staffing the hotels, stadiums and other infrastructure that will underpin the 2022 tournament.

Our investigation reveals:

• The Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) sheltered more than 600 runaway maids in the first six months of 2013 alone.

• Some workers say they have not been paid for months.

• Many housemaids do not get days off.

• Some contracts and job descriptions are changed once the workers arrive in Qatar.

• Women who report a sexual assault can be charged with illicit relations.

The non-payment of wages, confiscation of documents and inability of workers to leave their employer constitute forced labour under UN rules. According to the International Labour Organisation, forced labour is “all work which is exacted from someone under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”.

Lack of consent can include induced indebtedness and deception about the type and terms of work, withholding or non-payment of wages and the retention of identity documents. Initial consent may be considered irrelevant when deception or fraud has been used to obtain it.

“Menace of penalty” can include physical violence, deprivation of food and shelter, non-payment of wages, the inability to repay a loan, exclusion from future employment and removal of rights and privileges.

Modern-day slavery is estimated to affect up to 21 million people across the globe.

When the Guardian visited in January, at least 35 runaway maids had sought sanctuary at the POLO in the capital, Doha, which provides support to 200,000 Filipinos in Qatar. The welfare officer said most complained of pay being withheld, insufficient food, overwork and maltreatment. Some said they had endured verbal and physical abuse by sponsors of different nationalities.

Eight Filipino workers interviewed by the Guardian said they had not been paid for six months, were sometimes deprived of food while cleaning for long hours and had had their passports confiscated.

“We are afraid,” said 28-year-old Jane*. “We don’t really know what to do. We are trying to survive. That’s why we do part-time jobs secretly.” If they are caught breaching their contract, the maids face months in a deportation centre. The repatriation process is often delayed when people do not have their passports, according to James Lynch, Amnesty International’s researcher on Gulf migrants’ rights.

Qatar vigorously denies it is a “slave state” and is understood to be reviewing the controversial system that governs migrant labour, and to have stepped up inspections of businesses that use migrant labour. The Qatari labour ministry said in a statement: “We have clear laws and contractual terms in place to protect all people who live and work in Qatar and anyone found to have broken those laws will be prosecuted accordingly.” It said that non-payment of wages and confiscation of passports were illegal in Qatar, and added: “The vast majority of workers in Qatar – domestic or otherwise – work amicably, save money and send this home to improve the economic situation of their families and communities in their home countries.”

But the Philippines-based OFW (Overseas Foreign Workers) Watch, which supports Filipino migrant workers, said physical abuse, delayed and refused salaries, the misrepresentation of employers and contracts and passport confiscations were common issues in Qatar. The Guardian has already highlighted this malpractice in its investigation into the mistreatment of migrant workers as Qatar gears up for the 2022 World Cup.

As with the construction workers, the abuse of maids is systemic and brought into sharp focus by a lack of legal protection and the kafala sponsorship system, under which workers cannot leave the country or change jobs without their employer’s permission, Lynch said.

“The women we’ve spoken to who have suffered abuses in the workplace, ranging from excessive working hours to physical violence, their employers came from a variety of countries,” he added.

Many maids say they do not get any rest days and that employers confiscate their mobile phones.

Several recruitment agencies contacted by phone told a Guardian reporter pretending to be a would-be client that they routinely withheld the passports of their migrant workers. One agency volunteered that it was up to the sponsor whether the maid had a day off. “If you want to give an off day, let them rest at your house,” an Al Hadeel Manpower representative said. “Don’t give them free days outside because there is more problems outside.”

 

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Kids forced into prostitution for Super Bowl: FBI

U.S. Army helicopters fly over Metlife Stadium ahead of Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos on February 2, 2014, in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The FBI rescued sixteen juveniles ranging in age from 13 to 17 in a two-week operation leading up to the NFL’s Super Bowl championship.

NEW YORK — Forty-five people were arrested and 16 juveniles rescued in a two-week crackdown on prostitution in the New York-New Jersey area leading up to last Sunday’s Super Bowl, Federal Bureau of Investigation officials said on Tuesday.

The bureau said some of those arrested claimed they traveled to the site because of the high-profile football game, which drew an estimated 400,000 visitors to the region. The minors rescued ranged in age from 13 to 17 and included high school students and children reported missing by their families, the FBI said.

Arrests were made and victims recovered in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, said FBI spokeswoman Barbara Woodruff.

The FBI, backed by state and local law enforcement agencies, had mounted a major crackdown on human trafficking and prostitution ahead of the February 2 championship game, with some 3,000 law enforcement agents and civilians trained to help spot people who might be the victims of human trafficking.

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45 arrested, 16 juveniles rescued in Super Bowl prostitution bust

NYC police bust major sex ring near Super Bowl Boulevard.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Forty-five people were arrested and 16 juveniles rescued in a two-week crackdown on prostitution in the New York-New Jersey area leading up to last Sunday’s Super Bowl, Federal Bureau of Investigation officials said on Tuesday.

The bureau said some of those arrested claimed they traveled to the site because of the high-profile football game, which drew an estimated 400,000 visitors to the region. The minors rescued ranged in age from 13 to 17 and included high school students and children reported missing by their families, the FBI said.

Arrests were made and victims recovered in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, said FBI spokeswoman Barbara Woodruff.

The FBI, backed by state and local law enforcement agencies, had mounted a major crackdown on human trafficking and prostitution ahead of the February 2 championship game, with some 3,000 law enforcement agents and civilians trained to help spot people who might be the victims of human trafficking.

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After children as young as four found working in squalid conditions, NGO launches ‘blood bricks’ campaign to raise awareness of human rights abuses in India’s brick kilns

 

 

Blood bricks … Migrant labourers are forced to work in squalid conditions to fuel India's building boom.
Blood bricks … Migrant labourers are forced to work in squalid conditions to fuel India’s building boom. Photograph: Narendra Shrestha/EPA

 

Across India, once small trading towns are transforming into bustling centres, as global companies flood in to set up call centres, factories and software development branches, eager to capitalise on high skill-sets at low labour prices. India’s cities are expanding ever outwards to accommodate an expected 600 million people by 2030, when over 40% of the country’s population will live in urban areas – compared to just 10% a century ago. But this miraculous metropolitan boom comes at a price.

 

On the outskirts of Hyderabad, the sprawling capital of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, thick clouds of smoke hang above a primal scene of bare-footed workers clambering atop kilns, hacking at mounds of clay and hauling heavy loads. This is just one of over 150,000 brick production units in the country, which together employ an estimated 10 million workers, churning out the building blocks of the new offices and apartments, factories and shopping malls. All told, India’s brick industry – the second largest in the world after China – contributes around £3bn to the country’s economy every year. Not that the workers see much of that.

 

“It’s modern-day slavery,” says Andrew Brady, of Union Solidarity International (USI), a UK-based NGO that has been campaigning to improve the brick labourers’ conditions over the last two years. “Entire families of men, women and children are working for a pittance, up to 16 hours a day, in terrible conditions. There are horrific abuses of minimum wage rates and health and safety regulations, and it’s often bonded labour, so they can’t escape.”

 

Workers stand on the kilns after closing the opening of a brick kiln and throwing firewood inside.
Workers stand on the kilns after closing the opening of a brick kiln and throwing firewood inside. Photograph: Harish Tyagi/epa/Corbis

 

The six-month production season is now beginning, when tens of thousands of families flock to work in the brick kilns of Andhra Pradesh, mostly travelling from the state of Orissa. A report by the BBC this week discovered children as young as four smashing coal to fuel the kilns, and stories of labourers having their hands cut off when they tried to leave their jobs. The report found workers forced to produce over 1,500 bricks every day, paid in advance and only able to leave after six months, along with children suffering from severe respiratory problems.

 

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Victims’ groups and UN urge football governing body to halt death toll before 2022 World Cup

Qatar construction site A construction site in Qatar, which has 1.2 million foreign workers and is spending £100bn on facilities and infrastructure before 2022. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Link to video: Qatar: one Nepalese worker’s story

International pressure on Qatar to prevent exploitation of migrant workers in the buildup to the 2022 football World Cup escalated on Wednesday as victims’ groups and the United Nations urged the game’s governing body to act to halt a death toll that is already in the hundreds.

As the executive committee of Fifa convened in Zurich for two days of talks including a session on Qatar’s preparations for the biggest sporting event ever to be held in the Middle East, the Uefa president, Michel Platini, said he was “much more concerned” with allegations over the treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf state than with discussions over whether to move the tournament to winter.

The British government also renewed pressure on Qatar, with the sports minister, Hugh Robertson, saying it should be “a precondition of the delivery of every major sports event that the very highest standards of health and safety are applied”.

Unions have warned that labour conditions in the country could result in as many as 4,000 deaths before a ball is kicked. Representatives of the families of migrant workers already killed and injured on building sites in the Gulf state called on Fifa to hand the tournament to another country, unless the Doha leadership can quickly guarantee worker safety.

Ramesh Badal, a lawyer in Kathmandu who represents Nepalese workers victimised in Qatar, including those who have lost hands and legs in construction accidents, demanded that Fifa place a deadline on Qatar by which it must prevent deaths and labour abuses. He said if it fails, the right to host the World Cup should be withdrawn.

“If Fifa applies pressure on Qatar now, then they will definitely change,” he said. “This is now in the hands of Fifa.”

Platini voted for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup and his comments are one of the clearest signs yet that Qatar could be forced to act to safeguard more than a million migrant workers erecting nine new stadiums, motorways, metro systems, railways and several hundred thousand new hotel rooms. All 25 voting members of the Fifa executive committee who will convene to discuss the issue on Thursday and Friday were contacted to make them aware of the Guardian’s findings. The treatment of construction workers in Qatar has been added to the agenda on Friday in the wake of the Guardian’s reports, which found 44 Nepalese workers had died in Qatar between 4 June and 8 August this year. This week the Nepalese government revealed 70 nationals had died on building sites in Qatar since the beginning of 2012. Hundreds more are thought to have been injured in falls and accidents with machinery and vehicles.

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Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’

Exclusive: Abuse and exploitation of migrant workers preparing emirate for 2022

World Cup construction ‘will leave 4,000 migrant workers dead’
Analysis: Qatar 2022 puts Fifa’s reputation on the line

Link to video: Qatar: the migrant workers forced to work for no pay in World Cup host country

grieving parents Nepal Dalli Kahtri and her husband, Lil Man, hold photos of their sons, both of whom died while working as migrants in Malaysia and Qatar. Their younger son (foreground photo) died in Qatar from a heart attack, aged 20. Photograph: Peter Pattison/guardian.co.uk

Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in Qatar in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.

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, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.

According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.

The investigation also reveals:

Evidence of forced labour on a huge World Cup infrastructure project.

• Some Nepalese men have alleged that they have not been paid for months and have had their salaries retained to stop them running away.

• Some workers on other sites say employers routinely confiscate passports and refuse to issue ID cards, in effect reducing them to the status of illegal aliens.

• Some labourers say they have been denied access to free drinking water in the desert heat.

• About 30 Nepalese sought refuge at their embassy in Doha to escape the brutal conditions of their employment.

The allegations suggest a chain of exploitation leading from poor Nepalese villages to Qatari leaders. The overall picture is of one of the richest nations exploiting one of the poorest to get ready for the world’s most popular sporting tournament.

“We’d like to leave, but the company won’t let us,” said one Nepalese migrant employed at Lusail City development, a $45bn (£28bn) city being built from scratch which will include the 90,000-seater stadium that will host the World Cup final. “I’m angry about how this company is treating us, but we’re helpless. I regret coming here, but what to do? We were compelled to come just to make a living, but we’ve had no luck.”

The body tasked with organizing the World Cup, the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, told the Guardian that work had yet to begin on projects directly related to the World Cup. However, it said it was “deeply concerned with the allegations that have been made against certain contractors/sub-contractors working on Lusail City’s construction site and considers this issue to be of the utmost seriousness”. It added: “We have been informed that the relevant government authorities are conducting an investigation into the allegations.”

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.

“We were working on an empty stomach for 24 hours; 12 hours’ work and then no food all night,” said Ram Kumar Mahara, 27. “When I complained, my manager assaulted me, kicked me out of the labour camp I lived in and refused to pay me anything. I had to beg for food from other workers.”

Almost all migrant workers have huge debts from Nepal, accrued in order to pay recruitment agents for their jobs. The obligation to repay these debts, combined with the non-payment of wages, confiscation of documents and inability of workers to leave their place of work, constitute forced labour, a form of modern-day slavery estimated to affect up to 21 million people across the globe. So entrenched is this exploitation that the Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Maya Kumari Sharma, recently described the emirate as an “open jail”.

Nepal embassy record Record of deaths in July 2013, from all causes, held by the Nepalese embassy in Doha. Photograph: /guardian.co.uk

“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.”

Qatar has the highest ratio of migrant workers to domestic population in the world: more than 90% of the workforce are immigrants and the country is expected to recruit up to 1.5 million more labourers to build the stadiums, roads, ports and hotels needed for the tournament. Nepalese account for about 40% of migrant labourers in Qatar. More than 100,000 Nepalese left for the emirate last year.

The murky system of recruitment brokers in Asia and labour contractors in Qatar leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. The supreme committee has insisted that decent labour standards will be set for all World Cup contracts, but underneath it a complex web of project managers, construction firms and labour suppliers, employment contractors and recruitment agents operate.

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Qatar World Cup ‘slaves': the official response

The company behind the Lusail City development, Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organising committee and the labour ministry respond to allegations of worker exploitation

Lusail Real Estate Development Company:

Lusail City will not tolerate breaches of labour or health and safety law. We continually instruct our contractors and their subcontractors of our expectations and their contractual obligations to both us and individual employees.

We are extremely concerned at the allegations highlighted to us. Lusail employs, directly and via subcontractors, over 20,000 people. We value each employee.

All of our subcontractors are legally obliged to meet, as a minimum, Qatar labour law. In addition, Lusail expects our subcontractors to go beyond the law in the protection of individual employees both in health & safety and labour law.

The vast majority of contractors exceed these requirements and are delivering global best practice.

The Guardian have highlighted potentially illegal activities employed by one subcontractor. We take these allegations very seriously and have referred the allegations to the appropriate authorities for investigation. Based on this investigation, we will take appropriate action against any individual or company who has found to have broken the law or contract with us.

A company spokesperson

The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee

The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee (Q22) is deeply concerned with the allegations that have been made against certain contractors/sub-contractors working on Lusail City’s construction site and considers this issue to be of the utmost seriousness. We have been informed that the relevant government authorities are conducting an investigation into the allegations.

While construction on work relating directly to the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar has not yet commenced, we have always believed that hosting the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar could be the catalyst for positive change, particularly for accelerating human and social development in Qatar. We firmly believe that all workers engaged on our projects, and those of the other infrastructure developers in Qatar, have a right to be treated in a manner that ensures at all times their wellbeing, safety, security, and dignity. This is our top priority as we begin to deliver on the promises made in our bid to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar.

The Qatar 2022 Workers’ Charter is available to the public and is provided to all of our potential contractors. Q22’s Workers’ Charter is just the first step in our overall strategy for improving workers’ welfare in Qatar.

Clauses protecting the rights of workers on Q22 projects will be enshrined in our contracts and will supplement all relevant Qatari laws by taking additional steps that Q22 has identified in order to enhance the welfare of our workers. We are driven by transparency in setting up our standards, which will include a robust enforcement and monitoring mechanism.

We are working with international NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. We also maintain an open channel of dialogue with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on these issues, via close consultation with the Ministry of Labour and other relevant government agencies.

Q22 is also working with Qatar’s Human Rights Co-ordination Committee (QHRCC) which consists of representatives from Q22, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Labour, Qatar Foundation for Human Trafficking, Qatar Foundation for Child and Women Protection, the Follow up and Search Unit of the Ministry of Interior, and the National Human Rights Committee. We are committed with the government to address these issues.

Answers to the Guardian’s questions to the Qatar labour ministry

Are the authorities aware of the numbers of Nepalese dying on their construction sites?

According to article 48 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: “The employer shall record injuries incurred by any of its employees.”

According to article 108 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: “If the worker dies while on duty or because of the work or sustains a work injury the employer or his representative shall immediately notify the police and the department of the incident.

“The notification shall include the name, age, profession, address and nationality of the worker and a brief description of the incident, the circumstance where it took place and the actions taken for aiding or curing the worker.

“The police shall upon receipt of the information undertake the necessary enquiries and the record shall contain the statements of the witnesses and the employer or his representative and the statements of the injured if his condition so permits and the record shall explain the relationship of the incident to the work.

“The police shall upon completion of the inquiry send a copy of the record to the department and a copy to the employer. The Department may require completion of the enquiry if it deems necessary.”

According to article 115 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: “The employer shall every six months provide the department with a statistics of the work injuries and occupational diseases in accordance with the forms prepared for this purpose and the procedures to be prescribed by a decision of the minister.

According to article 105 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: “The periodical medical check-ups shall be carried out on the workers exposed to the dangers of inflication with the vocational diseases in all activities of the work at intervals appropriate to the hazards involved in the work in accordance with the measures to be specified by the competent authorities specifying the types of such check-ups and the intervals in which they shall be carried out.

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Azfar Khan of the International Labour Organisation on Qatar and the World Cup

TheGuardian TheGuardian

Published on Sep 27, 2013

Azfar Khan of the International Labour Organisation on Qatar and the World Cup
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Azfar Khan, the ILO’s senior labour migration adviser in the Arab states, tells the Guardian that Qatar is failing to fully implement an international convention banning the use of forced labour ahead of the 2022 football World Cup

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