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Qatar accused of 'modern day slavery' of foreign workers on 2022 projects

Campaigners called on Qatar to change its policy towards migrant laborers preparing for the 2022 World Cup, following an investigation by British newspaper the Guardian alleging "modern day slavery."

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(Sean Gallup/AFP/Getty Images)

Campaigners called on Qatar Thursday to change its policy towards migrant laborers preparing for the 2022 World Cup, following an investigation by British newspaper the Guardian alleging "modern day slavery."

The report said dozens of Nepalese workers have died while working in Qatar in recent weeks, raising concerns about the Gulf state's preparations to host the world's most-watched sporting event.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) meanwhile told the newspaper that at current rates, at least 4,000 migrant workers could die before the tournament kicks off in nine years' time.

Quoting documents obtained by the Nepalese embassy in the Qatari capital Doha, the Guardian said thousands of Nepalese -- the largest group of laborers in Qatar -- faced exploitation and abuses amounting to "modern-day slavery".

Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, who has seen the documents presented by the newspaper, told AFP the evidence was "certainly highly indicative of a brutal working environment which is not good for anybody.

"It is indicative of forced labor and it seems to even go beyond that. This is an open secret, and there is not a concerted effort (by the Qatari authorities) to stop it."

The Guardian said it had found evidence of forced labor on a huge World Cup infrastructure project, although work has not yet begun on building the stadiums for the tournament.

It said some Nepalese men had alleged they had not been paid for months and had had salaries held back to prevent them fleeing, while a group of 30 had sought refuge in the Nepalese embassy to escape the conditions of their employment.

Some workers complained that employers had confiscated workers' passports and refused to issue identity cards, while others said they had been denied access to drinking water despite the fierce desert heat.

One Nepalese migrant employed at Lusail City, which will include the 90,000-capacity stadium in which the World Cup final will be played, said: "We'd like to leave but the company won't let us."

'More workers will die'

The ITUC's general secretary, Sharan Burrow, said that "people should not have to pay with their lives for the World Cup to be a sporting and commercial success".

Some 32 workers, many of them young men in the 20s, died in July this year, the Brussels-based body said on its website on Tuesday, stating that there were indications that similar numbers were losing their lives from other countries.

"Qatar has said that between 500,000 and one million additional workers will be required for World Cup infrastructure -- this is a workforce of more than 30 percent and if there is no reform, we would expect a similar percentage increase in fatalities," said Burrow.

"Without the necessary changes, more workers will die building the World Cup facilities than players will take the field in the 2022 World Cup."

The body organizing the World Cup, the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, told the Guardian it was "deeply concerned" by the allegations.

FIFA said it, too, was "deeply concerned" about the reports and would be contacting the Qatari authorities.

"These reports will also be discussed at the Executive Committee on 3/4 October," a statement on the federation's Twitter account said.

McQuade said the situation would improve quickly if the Qatari authorities introduced three measures.

"We call on the Qatari authorities to get rid of the 'kafala' system which limits employees to one employer," he said.

"They should also allow freedom of association so that workers can negotiate better conditions collectively, and they should set a minimum rate of pay."

FIFA's decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was controversial. It appears increasingly likely that it will have to be played in the European winter because of the intense summer heat.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130926/football-foreign-workers-exploited-2022-projects-campaigners-0