Qatar appoints law firm to probe worker abuse claims

Probe follows claims that Nepalese workers face a barrage of abuses, including having wages and passports withheld. Elizabeth Dickinson reports

Qatar’s labour ministry has appointed an international law firm to look into allegations that workers for the 2022 World Cup were being mistreated.

Allegations surfaced last month that Nepalese workers faced a barrage of abuses, including having wages and passports withheld and working in hazardous environments.

DLA Piper, an international law firm with offices in the UK, United States and Australia, will “undertake an independent review of the allegations and provide a report on their veracity to the ministry”, Ali Ahmed Al Kholeifi, the labour minister, said today.

“Once the report has been delivered, the ministry will decide on an appropriate course of action to take in response to the allegations,” he said.

A spokesman for DLA Piper did not reply to requests for comment on the review, but a receptionist at the firm’s Doha office confirmed the contract with the Qatari labour ministry and said the review would be handled by the US-based office.

The abuse allegations have caused widespread concern about Qatar’s readiness to host one of the world’s most-attended sporting events.

Qatar plans to invest $100 billion (Dh367bn) in infrastructure and other development before 2030, much of that spending related to the 2022 games.

But 94 per cent of the country’s workforce is made up expatriate workers, many of them in low-paying sectors such as construction.

Among the allegations were claims that 44 Nepalese construction workers had died in Qatar between June 4 and August 8, half of them from cardiac problems and workplace accidents.

Qatar’s labour ministry denied those figures and this week promised to step up inspections at work sites to ensure compliance with labour laws.

“There is no slavery or forced labour in Qatar,” Ali Al Marri, the chairman of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, an official state body, said on September 30.

But those promises disappointed labour activists, who said the measures did not go far enough.

“Labour inspection in Qatar has failed miserably, and the government’s announcement that would put new staff into a system that doesn’t work is futile,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

The confederation said it was offering teams of experts who could ensure labour law compliance to football’s international governing body, Fifa.

In addition to labour concerns, the Qatari games are also facing scrutiny for their timing, set to take place during the summer, when temperatures routinely pass 40°C.

Fifa’s executive committee met yesterday and today in Zurich to discuss the possibility of moving the World Cup to the winter season.

Published: October 3, 2013 04:00 AM


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