nuwayhid_ANWAR AMROAFP via Getty Images_domestic workers qatar ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images

Qatar’s Human-Rights Reversal

After being awarded the right to host this year’s FIFA World Cup, Qatar pledged to implement sweeping labor reforms. But after making some progress, the country now seems to be backsliding, with migrant workers set to suffer the most.

BEIRUT – It should go without saying that a policy reform should be for the better – or, at least, not for the worse. But recent labor reforms in the Gulf fail to clear even this very low bar. In a region where foreign domestic workers are already highly vulnerable, they are now increasingly being denied basic rights.

Like other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, as well as Jordan and Lebanon, Qatar has in place a kafala system of labor sponsorship, under which a worker’s kafeel (sponsor) controls their immigration status, wages, accommodation, and all other contract terms. This system has often been criticized for leaving migrant workers – especially low-income women – highly vulnerable, with condemnation growing after Qatar was awarded the right to host this year’s FIFA World Cup tournament.

So, Qatar’s pledge in 2017 that it would pursue sweeping labor reforms was welcome news. And many celebrated when, in August 2020, Qatar removed the requirement that workers obtain their kafeel’s approval to change employers. Despite concerns that the lack of visibility of some workers, especially domestic workers, would undermine enforcement, many hoped that this augured a broader strengthening of protections for migrant workers, not only in Qatar, but across the GCC.