Hotel workers in Qatar ‘suffer abuse’ in run up to World Cup

The research ‘should be a wakeup call’ to football teams and sponsors, said report’s authors

Matt Mathers@MattEm90
Wednesday 14 July 2021 12:10

A new report published on Wednesday warns luxury hotel brands are failing to take action to protect migrant workers against labour abuse ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) invited 19 hotel companies to participate in a survey scoring them on their approach to safeguarding migrant workers’ rights.

The hotels surveyed represent more than 100 global brands with over 80 properties across the Middle East country, which are gearing up to host football fans come November 2022, the BHRRC said.

According to the charity, the hotels' answers revealed they are not undertaking meaningful human rights due diligence to prevent migrant workers from suffering systemic abuses, including extortionate recruitment fees, discrimination and being trapped in jobs through fear and intimidation.

In the second survey of its kind conducted by the BHRCC, all hotel brands which responded scored below 50 per cent.

IHG Hotels & Resorts scored the highest (40.5 points), while Louvre scored the lowest (11 points). Eight high-profile brands, including Best Western, Four Seasons and Millennium & Copthorne, failed to respond to the survey.

The research included interviews with 18 workers from East Africa, South Asia and South-East Asia at hotels in Qatar, which revealed a shocking contrast between hotels’ public policy commitments and what workers are experiencing on the ground.

Key findings from the report included:

  • Eight out of 18 workers said they had paid recruitment fees
  • Most hotels did not have a policy in line with the best practice standard, Employer Pays Principle
  • Employees at hotels said they had no representation in the work place
  • Subcontracted workers are most vulnerable to abuse, including passport confiscation and delayed wages
  • Workers find it difficult to change jobs, despite much-lauded labour reforms

Three brands referred to the now abolished No-Objection Certificate, which workers previously needed to be able to change jobs, suggesting that not only workers but brands themselves are not properly aware of the content of the labour law reforms.

One worker, a hotel driver from East Africa who did wish to be named, said: “On the new law [abolishing the No-Objection Certificate], to be honest, it’s just there on mere paper because these employers are not signing the resignation letters. Instead, they go ahead and cancel your visa and, before you know it, they forcefully repatriate you back to your country.

"On extreme cases they go further and report you as a runaway worker to the CID [Criminal Investigations Department].”

A kitchen worker, also from East Africa and who did not want to be named, said: “I paid $1,000 commission to secure the job. I have still not paid up in full the loan… No one has asked or offered to reimburse this cost, everyone is just keeping quiet.”

Isobel Archer, Gulf Programme Manager, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “This research should be a wakeup call to national football teams, corporate sponsors and the one million visitors set to enjoy a month of football in Qatar in November 2022.

“Through the testimony it also became apparent that subcontracted workers are most at risk of suffering serious abuses. It's vital that hotels recognise the responsibility they have for the welfare of all people working in their hotels - especially those most vulnerable like those employed by outsourced security and cleaning providers."

The BHRRC is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts (positive and negative) of more than 10,000 companies across nearly 200 countries. It seeks responses from companies when concerns are raised by civil society.

The Independent has contacted the hotels named above for comment.

A spokesperson for the Government Communications Office of the State of Qatar said: "All companies are required to strictly adhere to the laws. Qatar takes a zero-tolerance approach against violating companies, issuing harsh penalties including prison sentences.

"Workers are strongly encouraged to file complaints with the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (ADLSA) through the many available channels if they believe a law has been broken. When reported to the authorities, most complaints are resolved in an efficient and timely manner.”

The spokesperson added: "Qatar is committed to making further progress to ensure the labour reforms are effectively enforced. Significant progress has been made, but there is also a responsibility on companies to adjust their practices in line with the new legal requirements.

"With new laws and stricter enforcement measures in place, the government is clamping down on labour abuses, including those in the hospitality sector. Shifting the behaviour of all companies will take time, but Qatar is winning the battle against those who think they can bypass the rules."

Qatar has said it is expecting up to 1.5 million people to visit during next year’s World Cup, which will be the first to be held in the Middle East.

As well as hotels, fans will also stay on cruise ships anchored in Doha and camp in the desert.

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