Globe: Slavery And The World Cup

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Decades after the last country abolished slavery, its modern-day child still plagues parts of the Old World. Most notable of these examples might be Qatar, where the rich emirate has built its modern infrastructure upon the backs of indentured workers from South Asia. Soon, the products of their blood and sweat will be on full display in 2022 when the World Cup comes to Qatar.

The “workers” are recruited out of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. They are promised lucrative salaries - sometimes $400 a month, which is a fine living in too many parts of that region. There are some small operational costs that recruits are told to pay such as recruitment and orientation fees, but they are willing to sell their land and savings to finance the future of their family.

Reality sets in upon arrival in Qatar. Many of them are promised clerical jobs, but receive construction equipment and ordered to work. Their lucrative monthly salaries promised are dismissed as miscommunication. In reality, they will be making half of what was promised – and that is assuming they are actually paid, and their income is not withheld for a number of months.

The con becomes more evident. The small recruitment and orientations costs are in the thousands. And the plane ticket to Qatar must be paid back too. Their passports are taken. The workers are not going anywhere until their debts are paid off. Before work begins, they are indebted for two years. By all means, they indentured servants.

They work all day in a country where temperatures routinely exceed 110 degrees. Hundreds of deaths occur at the worksite every year. Few deaths are listed – the Qatari government goes out of their way to cover up the labor abuses they promised to stop.

 When not working, they are housed in cramped living quarters with deplorable facilities. If they manage to get a day off, they are not permitted to go outside their designated areas.  When a worker does attempt to go somewhere not permitted, say, a mall, they are escorted away from the premises. Security guards are posted with the responsibility of identifying and preventing anyone who is South Asian from entering these forbidden areas that are only open to Qataris and Westerners. They call these areas “family zones.” Workers are kept quiet. Those who do speak to the media are fired, which leaves them without a work sponsor and a passport – a perfect excuse to throw talkers in jail.

This is a situation repeated thousands of times. 90 percent of the 2.6 million people in Qatar are born elsewhere, and the overwhelming majority come from South Asia. Only a small percentage of these workers are building the future soccer stadiums, the rest are employed in other miscellaneous projects. One would be wise to relinquish all hopes of change. The stories of slavery have been reported for years. No one had any illusions to the nature of Qatar when they won their World Cup bid.

Qatar has promised reforms, but promises from countries linked to terror and supportive of the Iranian regime are hollow. FIFA will not do anything; they perfectly encapsulate the moral bankruptcy of modern international organizations. After all, the current World Cup is being played in a country that assassinates journalists, invaded and annexed part of their democratic neighbor, supported an insurgency in that country, and have militarily supported a regime that has committed crimes against humanity.

Maybe people will not watch a game in a stadium built by indentured workers? Doubtable. As American sports fans know, there is no ethical hurdle that can’t be jumped over in the righteous pursuit of kicking or throwing a ball. If a number of NFL fans were okay with watching Michael Vick after he went to jail for torturing dogs, and Fox Sports found it is acceptable to hire him as an analyst, then it is likely that the far more rapid global soccer community will see no evil in Qatar.

Alternatively, the media coverage that will soon engulf the Gulf state could be the deathblow for Qatar’s indentured worker economy. The international spotlight could lead to Western pressure on Qatari governmental and corporate structures, and Qatar has already faced pressure from countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt for its ties to Iran. A combination of national security and human rights abuses does not look good for the emirate. The irony for Qatar that the greatest products of its labor abuse could be the downfall of their system.