Football World Cup in Qatar: the trafficking problem

Qatar World Cup LogoLast month FIFA, the world’s football governing body, announced Qatar as the host country for the 2022 Football World Cup. Across the world the decision was greeted with, at best, a collective raised eyebrow.

Qatar’s unique socio-economic makeup makes it a particularly interesting case study for human trafficking.
Some quick Qatari facts:
– It ranks at number one in the world for GDP per capita income.
– It has a permanent population of just 350,000 – the vast majority of which work in managerial or administrative positions.
– Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are brought to the country on two-year contracts to perform the labour on which the country’s burgeoning economy depends.

The turnover of vast numbers of migrant labourers is tightly regulated by the Ministry of the Interior, and doesn’t necessarily constitute any form of exploitation. But the sheer demand for manual workers means that inevitably there is a huge problem with people (many underage) being trafficked into the country and exploited for their labour. Qatar does not comply with the UN’s minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking.

Now add into the equation the fact that, having won the race to host the 2022 Football World Cup, the country is now required to build a catalogue of new stadia and significantly develop its transport and hospitality capabilities. The renewed demand that this will create for construction workers is in danger of being satiated by the exploitation of vulnerable foreign nationals.

It’s massively important that Qatar’s poor human rights record – and specifically as a destination for human trafficking victims – is addressed now more than ever. But it’s equally important that the debate is conducted in a focussed manner, and is free from cultural prejudice. A Google search in the wake of FIFA’s controversial decision uncovered an array of scathing blog posts with headlines like “selling beer in Qatar incurs the same legal punishment as slavery”. Tackling trafficking in the Qatar doesn’t require the country’s conservative stance on alcohol consumption to be attacked. Conflating harmless cultural laws or practices with human rights abuses isn’t particularly helpful – it’s vital that international pressure on Qatar is framed in a clear, constructive manner.

So, it could go one of two ways. Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup could subject the country to increased scrutiny from the international community, forcing it to take the issue of human trafficking seriously. Alternatively, the event could play directly into traffickers’ hands if trafficked labour is allowed to develop the country’s infrastructure.

What do you think of FIFA’s decision? From a human trafficking perspective, what implications do you think the World Cup in Qatar will have? Should trafficking for the purposes of forced labour be our only concern here, or do you think the event could signal an increased risk of other forms of human trafficking in the region?

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