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2022 World Cup: Qatar hotels accused of failing to end ‘abusive recruitment practices’

Human rights concerns continue to surround Fifa’s showpiece event just months before it starts

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Wednesday 13 July 2022 10:19 BST
(AFP via Getty Images)

The luxury hotel industry has been criticised for “not doing enough to end abusive recruitment practices” in Qatar just four months ahead of the 2022 World Cup, leaving open the likelihood that tens of thousands of fans will be staying in accommodation where workers have had to pay exploitative fees to recruitment agencies and other parties.

New research by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, which can be read here, showed most major brands have “limited understanding” of the situation or what they should be doing.

The industry will be a key facilitator of this World Cup, accommodating up to one million visiting supporters and all involved figures, but the issue of fees is seen as a “key driver” of abuse.

With workers reporting payment of anything between $500 and 2,360US (£420-1980) just to have a job even though it is illegal in Qatar, it leaves most with debt they are unable to pay off, leaving them struggling financially and even driven to suicide under the pressure. The industry has been criticised for “inadequately” monitoring and reimbursing employers.

While a core of hotel brands were credited for “modest progress” as regards worker rights, the issue is all the more acute because the window for improvement is now closing, and is seen as an area that could have huge influence across the entire gulf.

Just as striking from the report was the fact that the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre invited 30 multinational hotel brands to respond to their survey, but only 14 did. Only two of those - Four Seasons and Radisson - committed to disclosing publicly and remediating incidents of recruitment risks and fee payment discovered during the World Cup within six months, while Radisson are one of only two, along with Kempinski, to have a public policy aligning the Employer Pays Principle. This is a commitment to ensure no worker should pay for a job. While most other brands claimed to have a policy compliant with the EPP, none provided evidence for this.

Ten of the 14 brands were nevertheless credited for naming at least one recruitment agency or labour supplier, reflecting improvement in the absolute key area of transparency that allows problems to be tackled.

Only four of the companies disclosed uncovering recruitment fee payments from their interviews with workers, despite the prevalence of the practice.

“These findings together suggest the interviewing process for most hotel brands needs strengthening to ensure workers who cite fear and intimidation are able to give voice to their experiences of the recruitment process, including being required to pay illegal fees,” the report reads.

Giving a picture of the reality of the situation, worker testimony is included in the report, with one concierge from Bangladesh stating: “I was hired directly in Qatar. I did not use an agency. When I transferred from my old company to this, the old company took money from me, to release me. But, this money was not required for the transfer.”

The report concluded by calling for the industry to: increase transparency through annual reporting; improve due diligence and monitoring of business partners; commit to remediation for workers.

“There remain major concerns which cannot be ignored,” says Isobel Archer, Gulf Programme Manager for the centre. “Continued reports of workers paying extortionate recruitment fees are an alarm bell; given the short lifespan of the World Cup, the risk is that hospitality workers contracted only for the duration of the tournament may have paid high recruitment fees and taken on debt which they will not be employed long enough to service, let alone earn any money for themselves and their families.

“The window of opportunity for the hotel industry to turn things around is quickly closing. Hotel brands can easily implement effective changes in the short term that would prevent harm to workers. Simple steps to improve recruitment practices, as outlined in this report, would go a long way, with the impact for workers stretching far beyond December’s final.

“Otherwise, many workers will face the consequences of recruitment fees long after the tournament winners have lifted their trophy. Hotel brands can play a pivotal role to make sure the legacy of the World Cup is not tainted by further worker suffering.

“Football teams, corporate sponsors and FIFA officials – all of whom will undoubtedly be luxury hotels’ guests– must use their leverage to push brands in the right direction. It’s time for everyone to band together to ensure worker rights are put at the heart of this tournament.”

Hilton Salwa Beach Resort and Villa at Abu Samrah in Qatar (AFP via Getty Images)

The report goes even further, stating that improvement in Qatar could allow “impact far beyond the World Cup”.

“Hotel workers across the Gulf – in countries like Saudi Arabia, where the hotel industry is booming and protections are much lower – experience similar treatment and face similar abuse without brand intervention.”

In response to the report, a Qatari government official released the following statement: “Qatar has done more than any other country in the region to improve workers’ rights.

“In accordance with international standards, new laws have been introduced to prevent abuse and exploitation in our labour market. The number of offences has declined year-on-year as enforcement measures take hold and compliance increases among employers.

“It is illegal for companies in Qatar to charge recruitment fees or related costs. The government has worked with labour-sending countries to open 20 specialist recruitment centres in eight countries to regulate the recruitment process and make deployment procedures faster and more transparent.

“Plans to open recruitment centres in several other countries are at an advanced stage. With new laws in place, the responsibility also rests with companies operating in Qatar, both local and international, to ensure they comply with the new standards. The government works intimately with the business community and has launched several initiatives to ensure all operators understand their legal obligations, and workers are aware of their rights.

“Qatar has repeatedly said that systemic reform does not happen overnight and shifting the behaviour of every company takes time. The reality is that no other country has come so far so quickly.”

The hotel brands that responded to the survey were: Accor; The Ascott Limited; Chiva-Som International Health Resorts; Deutsche Hospitality; Four Seasons Hotels, Hilton; IHG Hotels and Resorts, Kempinski Hotels; Marriott; Millennium Hotels and Resorts; Minor International; Radisson; Retaj Hotels and Hospitality; Whitbread.

Those that did not respond are named as: Al Sraiya Hotels and Hospitality; BWH Hotel Group; Centara Hotels and Resorts; Corinthia Hotels; Dream Hotel; Dusit international; Frasers Hospitality; Holiday Villa Hotels and Resorts; Hyatt; Katara Hospitality; Louvre Hotels; Mandarin Oriental; Rotana Hotel Management Corp; Swiss-Belhotel International; TIME Hotels; Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.

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