The petition circulated by Change.org, which works with major non-governmental organizations as well as journalists and activists calls on the State Department to allocate funds to foster anti-trafficking legislation in the Gulf, support Qatari civil society groups that support victims and seek to prevent trafficking and encourage Qatar to develop a plan to combat human trafficking.
The petition targets those that have been critical of FIFA’s choice of Qatar, the first Middle Eastern state to win the right to host the world’s biggest sporting event.
Critics have suggested that Qatar lacks a soccer tradition and fan base, restricts the consumption of alcohol, imposes strict moral codes of conduct and pushed the envelope of FIFA rules in campaigning to ensure that its bid would be successful.
Charging that Qatar’s “wealth is created at the expense of slave labor,” the petition quotes a 2007 State Department report as saying that the Gulf state has failed to prosecute traffickers, comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and adequately protect victims.
It asserts that the maximum sentence for forced labor trafficking under Qatari criminal law is six months.
The petition comes as human rights and labor activists are gearing up to use Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup as a way to pressure the oil-rich Gulf state to improve the working conditions of its majority expatriate workforce.
Foreigners primarily from Asia account for three quarters of Qatar’s population and are likely to shoulder the burden of building the world class soccer, transportation and hospitality facilities Qatar has promised for the World Cup.
Street signs in the Qatari capital Doha read: “Don’t kill us, we are at work.”
The signs are as much an admonition to vehicle drivers to be cautious as they are an appeal to Qatar’s population, many of whom have double-edged feelings towards the workers.
The workers are a necessarily evil, but over time they are almost certain to change the nature of society and make their impact on national culture and identity – a notion that sends chills down Qatari spines.
Unskilled and low skilled labor work in conditions of “forced labor,” says Human Rights Watch researcher Samer Muscati.
Muscati asserts that unskilled workers earn $2,200 a year, working 12 hours a day. He says their salary is often less than what they were promised because of fees they owe to loansharking recruiters.
Worker conditions in Qatar do not differ radically from those in other Gulf states. Workers are often housed in poorly equipped labor camps far from the urban centers and their passports are held as a form of control by their employers.
In anticipation of the criticism, Qatar has moved to improve facilities in housing complexes being built for workers who are constructing facilities for various foreign institutions, including Georgetown University and Virginia Commonwealth University. The two universities are among a number of prestigious Western educational institutions running programs in Qatar and building campuses.