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Qatar: Govt., FIFA respond to Amnesty International investigation into labour abuse of construction workers; implicated companies did not respond

An investigation by Amnesty International found that Mercury MENA took advantage of the sponsorship system in Qatar to exploit workers, failing to pay them thousands of dollars in wages and benefits, and leaving them stranded in Qatar. Amnesty found that the wage delays occurred from February 2016 onwards, remaining unresolved in 2017. Mercury MENA also failed to provide residence permits to workers, restricting their ability to move jobs or leave the country. Mercury MENA also hired recruitment agents who illegally charged fees.

In 2019 it was reported that some workers had had to sell property to pay for medical bills after their company-covered insurance expired, and in some cases were unwell because they could not afford treatment. Workers also had to take out loans to cover debts racked up whilst they waited for wages to be paid, were unable to pay for their children's education and faced having their homes and land reposessed to cover the amounts owed.

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Company non-response
9 December 2019

Paradise International did not respond to Telegraph article of November 2019

Company response
27 November 2019

FIFA response to Telegraph article of November 2019

Author: FIFA

FIFA takes very seriously any allegations of human rights violations related to its events. When it comes to the case you refer to, FIFA has followed up with the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), who confirmed again that Mercury Mena has never been engaged on a FIFA World Cup construction site under its purview...

the Supreme Committee has engaged several times with the Qatari Ministry of Labour (ADLSA) to discuss the case... We are confident that ADLSA is determined to resolve this matter in an appropriate manner and are pleased to see that ADLSA and Amnesty International are now in close contact to ensure that these workers are fully remedied.

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Article
25 November 2019

High and Dry: World Cup workers exploited, stranded and destitute

Author: Joe Wallen, The Telegraph (UK)

[Along with hundreds of others, Rabindra Kewat's] employers, Mercury MENA, failed to pay five months of his wages from January 2017. The company folded 11 months later leaving hundreds of Nepalis, Filipinos, Indians and Bangladeshis destitute and stranded...

Under Nepali law, a migrant traveling to work in Qatar should be provided with a free visa and travel but this is rarely implemented so Kewat [like the majority of Nepali workers] instead turned to... [recruitment agent] Paradise International...

[Amnesty researcher Angela Sherwood said] “We’ve seen people who’ve had to sell houses and haven’t been able to pay for medical care for their families.”

The exact number of Mercury MENA workers still waiting for unpaid wages is unclear...

However, a spokesperson for the returned Mercury MENA workers told the Telegraph there are hundreds of cases like Kewat’s in Nepal.

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Item
28 September 2018

Clarification statement to stakeholders by FIFA regarding the Amnesty International publication of 25 September 2018 involving a company operating in Qatar

Author: FIFA

On 25 September 2018, Amnesty International published a press statement and short report documenting labour rights abuses of workers employed for an engineering company, which works on a construction site in Qatar. The report describes serious allegations of human rights violations against that company. We sincerely hope that these allegations will be further investigated and, if confirmed, fully remedied by those responsible.

Given however that both Amnesty International and multiple international media outlets are linking these reported abuses to FIFA and the 2022 FIFA World Cup, we feel compelled to issue some clarifications:

Contrary to what is stated by Amnesty International and these media outlets, there are no reasons to believe that the reported violations are related to any construction project linked to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The company named in the report is not employed on a stadium construction site for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and we have no information suggesting that it is working on another site directly linked to the delivery of the tournament. We invited Amnesty International to clarify but did not receive any further information that would establish a linkage under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.     

Our assessment seems to be supported by Amnesty International itself, which stated in a communication to FIFA on 25 September that the report is in fact not focusing on FIFA World Cup infrastructure and that it makes merely general links with World Cup-linked construction. Amnesty International later made similar comments in international media. 

We regret that Amnesty International chose to frame its report and public statement in such a misleading manner, which eventually led to deeply erroneous media coverage. We do not think that this course of action meets the standards of evidence-based and fair reporting and campaigning Amnesty International sets for itself and others. 

Irrespective of the above, FIFA fully recognises its responsibility, in accordance with its Human Rights Policy and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and other relevant international standards, to work to ensure respect for human rights in all activities associated with its operations. In the context of labour rights in Qatar, FIFA continues to engage closely with the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy and other parties on their well-documented work to enforce heightened labour standards on FIFA World Cup construction sites and will continue to engage constructively with Amnesty International and other external stakeholders as part of that effort. 

For more information on the Workers’ Welfare programme of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, see: https://www.sc.qa/en/opportunities/workers-welfare 

Zurich, 27 September 2018

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Article
28 September 2018

Qatar: Migrant workers unpaid for months of work by company linked to World Cup host city

Author: Amnesty International

Mercury MENA, failed to pay its workers thousands of dollars in wages and work benefits, leaving them stranded and penniless in Qatar...Between October 2017 and April 2018 Amnesty International interviewed 78 former Mercury MENA employees from India, Nepal and the Philippines...Most of the former Mercury MENA employees interviewed by Amnesty International were owed between US$1,370 and US$2,470 (QAR 5,000 and 9,000) in salaries and benefits...The company also failed to provide legally required residence permits to workers, which led to fines that placed additional restrictions on their ability to move jobs or leave the country. Recruitment agencies hired by Mercury MENA illegally charged workers high fees for their jobs, compelling them to take out high interest loans. This pushed them into severe debt that made it difficult for workers to escape or challenge exploitative conditions.

Amnesty International is calling on the Nepal and Qatar governments to support the former Mercury MENA workers to get justice and receive the money that they are owed, and to take steps to prevent similar cases from arising in the future.

In November 2017 Amnesty International spoke to the CEO of Mercury MENA, who acknowledged long-standing pay delays but denied exploiting workers. He said that Mercury MENA had been the victim of unscrupulous business partners resulting in “cashflow problems” and a number of disputes over payments with contractors and clients. Documented communications between Mercury MENA and its workers show that the company’s management were fully aware of the problems with salary payments, and continued to make promises to pay wages that were ultimately not kept. Amnesty sent further emails to Mercury MENA’s CEO in December 2017 and January 2018 requesting information about their situation and what actions they were taking, as well as a letter in July 2018 summarizing the key points of our investigation, to which no response was provided.

Read Part 1: Qatar

Read Part 2: Nepal

Read the Qatar government's response here

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Item
28 September 2018

Statement from the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs on Amnesty International Misleading Report on Qatar

Author: Government Communications Office, Qatar

The concerns highlighted by Amnesty International are not tolerated by the State of Qatar. Currently there are legal proceeding underway concerning Mercury MENA. While Mercury MENA no longer operates in Qatar, legal matters will continue and we will conduct a full investigation. We will address any existing issues or violations and remedy any remaining matters.

For years Qatar has worked with the international community on improving laws, regulations and policies concerning guest workers. This is exhibited by the fact that Qatar has the highest level of partnership with organizations like Amnesty. NGOs visit Qatar independently and perform their work without interference.

In the years since we started working collaboratively with the ILO, and organizations including Amnesty, we have aggressively transformed our labour system. Reforms and advances include: abolition of exit permits, introduction of comprehensive wage protection system, and additional policies that protect guest workers from their recruitment to their return. There is always more work to be done on this matter, and we endeavor to be the regional leader on the matter.

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