The United Nations labour agency ended a potential investigation of Qatar on Wednesday after the 2022 World Cup host pledged to protect the rights of migrant workers.
The International Labor Organization closed a formal complaint procedure that was opened three years ago “concerning non-observance by Qatar of the Forced Labor Convention.”
Praising Qatar’s commitment “to ensuring fundamental principles and rights at work for all workers and the resulting breakthrough to end the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system,” the ILO’s Governing Body said it would monitor progress for three years.
Reported abuses under “kafala,” which binds workers to their employer, include unpaid wages, seizing migrant workers’ passports, and denying the right to unionize.
Qatari labor minister Issa bin Saad al-Jafali al-Nuaimi told the ILO meeting his government is “mindful to protect all migrant workers, including domestic workers.” The minister announced a commitment last month to a minimum wage policy.
The complaint process, opened in 2014, put pressure on Qatar to reform. “It originated out of deep concern for exploitative practices,” ILO Workers’ Group spokeswoman Catelene Passchier said Wednesday, stressing that Qatar must act on its promises. “We emphasize that nice words, and nice and good intentions, are not sufficient.”
Qatar relies heavily on a massive workforce of about 2 million migrant workers from Asia to expand its infrastructure. The gas-rich emirate has committed tens of billions of dollars to the construction of stadiums, hotels and transport projects linked to the 2022 World Cup.
Winning the hosting rights for the soccer tournament in December 2010 exposed Qatar to criticism of employment practices that are common in the Gulf region, and labor protection laws that fell short of international standards.
ILO Employers’ Group spokesman Mthunzi Mdwaba said Wednesday’s decision was a clear case of progress and a milestone we must celebrate. “There is never any beauty without pain,” Mdwaba said. “It is all worth it in the end.”