The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar's Construction Sector Ahead of the World Cup

November 17, 2013

The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar's Construction Sector Ahead of the World Cup

  • Workers interviewed by Amnesty International's researchers (this includes impromptu interviews and those where researchers were alerted to cases of individuals facing specific problems) gave consistent accounts of exploitation practices. These accounts were, in turn, consistent with recent independent quantitative research confirming that large numbers of migrant workers are subjected to confiscation of personal documents by their employers, deception as to the terms and type of work for which they are being recruited, and not being paid on time.
  • In many of the cases of labour exploitation which Amnesty International investigated, the abuses suffered by workers were not only due to the actions or failures of an individual employer but were clearly linked to systemic problems in the way migrant workers' employment is regulated, and the procedures for them to obtain identity documents and leave the country.
  • Some employers have confirmed in interviews with researchers that they engage in practices that are inconsistent with labour standards and Qatari law. In these interviews they have indicated that practices such as delays in paying workers for periods of several months and preventing migrant workers from leaving the country are not unusual.
  • Interviews with representatives of embassies of labour sending countries and migrant worker community groups also confirmed that cases of labour exploitation are rife and that avenues for workers to achieve redress are ineffective.
  • Amnesty International has documented serious cases where large numbers of workers have been subjected to severe exploitation over periods of many months, and despite the workers seeking assistance from the authorities, their situation has not been resolved adequately.

Amnesty International's research exposes how labour exploitation in Qatar is due, in large part, to serious flaws in the country's legal and policy framework for labour migration, rather than a simple narrative of Qatari nationals exploiting foreigners. Indeed a number of migrant workers who had experienced terrible abuses gave examples of Qatari nationals who had helped them in times of crisis. While Amnesty International has documented cases where abuse involved Qatari nationals, several migrant workers described how other foreign nationals were the main actors involved in their abuse. Some of the construction companies Amnesty International has found to be engaged in exploitative practices are local branches of multinational businesses. Labour exploitation in Qatar is rooted in the processes by which people are recruited and employed, which facilitate and enable employers - of whatever nationality - to subject workers to exploitative practices.


The factors that lead to abuse are varied and interrelated and the measures to address them therefore need to be wide-ranging. Firstly, there are problems with laws and policies that facilitate the abuse of migrant workers' rights. In particular, the Sponsorship Law and the Labour Law should be reformed to remove clauses which are creating a permissive context for abuse. Specific problematic provisions within these laws should be repealed or revised, including:

  • the requirement for workers to obtain their current employer's permission before changing jobs (known as a "No objection certificate" or "NOC");
  • the requirement for workers to obtain their employer's permission before leaving the country (the "exit permit");
  • the explicit exclusion of certain categories of workers, including domestic workers, from the protections of the Labour Law; and
  • the fact that only Qatari workers are allowed to form or join trade unions.

Amnesty International considers that the sponsorship system currently in place should be fundamentally reformed. In the interim, however, there are major issues with the way that the Sponsorship Law is policed; at present migrant workers who have attempted to leave an exploitative situation are at risk of detention for "absconding" (if workers leave their sponsor without permission, they are considered to have "absconded") or not holding a valid residence permit.