Migrant workers have been exploited amidst preparations for the massive soccer event, according to Amnesty International. Smaller contractors have coerced laborers while flying under the radar of regulators.
Over 200 workers spoke to human-rights organization Amnesty International, and almost every one of them did so despite fear of reprisal. What if their bosses withheld payments? Or refused to ever let them go home?
Their fears were not unreasonable, a new report from the NGO reveals. Amnesty researchers spent a year compiling first-person accounts of a woefully unjust situation for migrant workers in Qatar, as the country prepares to host the World Cup in 2022.
The workers, mostly men from South Asia, spoke of squalid living conditions, forced labor and the threat of deportation - or the opposite, being trapped in Qatar after having their passports confiscated by employers.
Their stories exposed the shortcomings of a system in the oil-rich emirate that seemed to inherently disadvantage workers coming from India, Nepal and Bangladesh, among other places, to seek work in Qatar's booming construction sector and service industry.
'Egregious labor exploitation'
At the heart of that system is a rule that requires every migrant worker in Qatar to acquire sponsorship for their stay from their employer. Amnesty noted that sponsors have the final say over whether a worker can change jobs or leave the country.
"Qatar's sponsorship system is at the heart of much of the egregious labor exploitation," Amnesty wrote in its report. "The sponsorship system gives employers signifiant power over migrant workers."
A chain of contractors have taken advantage of this system, operating with virtual impunity. They largely go unnoticed by Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, set up to oversee the World Cup preparations, Amnesty said.
While the NGO lauded the work of the committee, saying it "demonstrated a consistent committment to ensuring the rights of workers on World Cup sites are respected and protected," it also said the committee's oversight tended to be myopic and disproportionate in some areas.
Amnesty said some workers had been subjected to overcrowded living quarters and the stench of raw sewage due to poor drainage.
'Keep working or you will never leave!'
For instance, the Supreme Committee focused on ensuring compliance by the main contractors hired to refurbish Qatar's Khalifa Stadium. But according to interviewed workers, the project's sub-contractors meanwhile got away with grave rights violations.
This approach to oversight "ignores the evidence that migrant workers' rights are generally at greater risk when they are working for small sub-contractors and labor supply companies," Amnesty said.
Labor supply companies are typically small entities that hire out workers. Amnesty accused one such company, Seven Hills, of subjecting workers to forced labor.
One laborer recalled complaining to his boss at Seven Hills about late payments. When the worker said he would rather go home than wait any longer, his boss replied: "Keep working or you will never leave!"
In all, 88 people working on the Khalifa Stadium told Amnesty they had been denied the right to leave Qatar.
In a poignant example, several workers from Nepal asked to return home after their country was devastated by an earthquake in April 2015. Their request was denied.