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Luxury hotels check out over migrant worker abuses in Qatar

Workers face recruitment fees, discrimination and debt in the build-up to FIFA World Cup 2022

Luxury hotel brands are failing to take action to protect migrant workers against labour rights abuse ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, according to new research published today (14 July 2021). The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited 19 hotel companies to participate in a survey scoring them on their approach to safeguarding migrant workers’ rights. The surveyed companies represent more than 100 global brands with over 80 properties across Qatar which are gearing up to host football fans come November 2022. Their answers revealed they are not undertaking meaningful human rights due diligence to prevent migrant workers from suffering systemic abuses, including extortionate recruitment fees, discrimination and being trapped in jobs through fear and intimidation.

“On the new law [abolishing the No-Objection Certificate], to be honest, it’s just there on mere paper because these employers are not signing the resignation letters. Instead, they go ahead and cancel your visa and, before you know it, they forcefully repatriate you back to your country. On extreme cases they go further and report you as a runaway worker to the CID [Criminal Investigation Department].” - Hotel driver from East Africa
“I paid $1,000 commission to secure the job. I have still not paid up in full the loan…No one has asked or offered to reimburse this cost, everyone is just keeping quiet.” - Kitchen worker from East Africa

In the second survey of its kind conducted by the Resource Centre, all hotel brands which responded scored below 50%, with none awarded a rating of more than three stars (out of five). IHG Hotels & Resorts scored the highest (40.5 points) and was the only hotel brand to be awarded a three-star rating, while Louvre scored the lowest (11 points). Disappointingly, eight high-profile brands, including Best Western, Four Seasons and Millennium & Copthorne*, failed to respond to the survey. The research also included interviews with 18 workers from East Africa, South Asia and South-East Asia at hotels in Qatar, which revealed a shocking contrast between hotels’ public policy commitments and what workers are experiencing on the ground.

Key Findings:

Exploitative recruitment practices are one of the most serious areas of risk.

  • Eight of 18 workers interviewed said they had paid recruitment fees. Eight of the 11 responding brands either did not provide any data or said they had not detected any instances of recruitment fees, while simultaneously failing to outline robust mechanisms to safeguard against fee charging.
  • Only Radisson and Kempinski had a policy in line with the best practice standard, Employer Pays Principle.

Worker voice is severely suppressed, effectively masking labour rights abuses.

  • Although the majority of responding brands stated they had worker committees, or an equivalent, workers at the hotels replied universally that no such committees exist.
  • Workers appeared unaware that forming a committee was permitted in Qatar - another indication reforms on paper have yet to be effectively communicated to those directly affected.
  • Subcontracted workers were most vulnerable to suffering serious abuses including passport confiscation and delayed wages; despite this risk being well known, no brand was able to demonstrate meaningful human rights due diligence of its labour suppliers.

Despite much-lauded labour law reforms, migrant workers are still unable to change jobs.

  • Almost all workers who were asked said there were barriers to changing jobs or that they were afraid to ask for sponsorship transfer due to fear of reprisals. Some cited the requirement of a stamped resignation letter (not required by the labour law), others said they could change jobs easily but only after completing their contract (the new law allows notice periods.)
  • Three brands referred to the now abolished No-Objection Certificate, suggesting that not only workers but brands themselves are not properly aware of the content of the labour law reforms in practice.
Isobel Archer, Gulf Programme Manager, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “The FIFA World Cup 2022 is one of the most anticipated sporting events in the world, but little attention is paid to the plight of workers who toil behind the scenes. This research should be a wakeup call to national football teams, corporate sponsors and the one million visitors set to enjoy a month of football in Qatar in November 2022.
“Through the testimony it also became apparent that subcontracted workers are most at risk of suffering serious abuses. It's vital that hotels recognise the responsibility they have for the welfare of all people working in their hotels - especially those most vulnerable like those employed by outsourced security and cleaning providers.
“Players and corporate sponsors must use their leverage to tell these hotel brands that mistreatment of migrant workers must be prevented and carrying out due diligence to ensure workers in their hotels are protected from abuse is no longer optional. Workers must be able to change jobs without fear of reprisals and the charging of recruitment fees must be prevented as these leave migrant workers deep in debt, and with low wages it can take some workers years to repay those debts. When Qatar won its bid for the FIFA World Cup 2022, we were presented with a rare opportunity to push for lasting change in a sector and region where it is much needed."
Mustafa Qadri, Executive Director of Equidem, said: “With a little over a year before the tournament kicks off, Qatar’s hospitality sector and its FIFA business partners are failing the very people that football stars and fans alike will depend upon. The COVID-19 pandemic has already had a massive impact, costing lives and livelihoods. Many of the practices Equidem has documented in collaboration with the Resource Centre may indicate forced labour and modern slavery. International hotel brands, FIFA and the Qatar authorities must act quickly to remedy and prevent this labour exploitation. There is simply no excuse for luxury hotels failing to protect workers from exploitation in one of the richest countries in the world as it gears to host the richest sporting tournament on the planet.”


Note to editors

* Millennium & Copthorne Hotels subsequently submitted a response to the survey on 30 September 2021

About the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts (positive and negative) of more than 10,000 companies across nearly 200 countries. We seek responses from companies when concerns are raised by civil society.

Media contact: Priyanka Mogul (London-based), Media Officer, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, +44 (0) 7880 956239, [email protected]