Under persistent pressure, Qatar and its World Cup organizing bodies did gradually go some way to reforming the kafala system and better protecting migrant workers. In 2017, the government started to introduce promising legal reforms to improve the working and living conditions, including introducing a law for domestic workers and legislation to protect workers from heat stress, setting up new labour courts and putting in place initiatives to compensate those who suffered abuses such as wage theft. Importantly, migrant workers are now legally allowed to change jobs and leave the country without their employer’s permission.
In addition to these reforms made by Qatar, FIFA and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (Qatar’s World Cup organizing body) introduced the Workers’ Welfare Standards to raise the standards of working and living conditions for construction workers on FIFA World Cup tournament sites in 2014. In 2020 they jointly published a new Sustainability Strategy aimed at ensuring respect for the human rights of people contributing to the delivery of the World Cup, as well as other human rights and environmental issues.
Change came on paper but on the ground, it has not changed… It is still appalling.
Jacob, a migrant worker from Kenya.
However, due to constant structural problems coupled with lack of proper enforcement means that many thousands of migrant workers continue to face abuse and exploitation today. Employers still have excessive control over their workforce and can cancel worker’s visas or file ‘absconding’ charges against them if they try to change jobs, putting them at risk of arrest and deportation. Thousands continue to face wage theft, unsafe working and living conditions, and sometimes insurmountable barriers to changing jobs. They are still prohibited from forming and joining trade unions to collectively fight for their rights, while justice evades them and compensation for abuse remains scarce.
The impact of all these failures has also meant that past abuses have gone unchecked and in many thousands of cases neither the victim nor their family has received compensation for the suffering endured, or adequate redress for the deaths caused.