Anti-slavery campaigners target Qatari stadium construction lecture in Glasgow


Engineers asked to speak out against Qatar’s ‘kafala’ regime for migrant workers

FORCED LABOUR in the Gulf state of Qatar was highlighted by protestors in Glasgow yesterday [Thursday 9 June] when a civil engineer's association held a lecture on the Qatari stadium construction contract. 

Along with trade union Unison, anti-slavery campaigners targeted the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) over their involvement in Qatar, holding a static demonstration outside a lecture at Strathclyde University in Glasgow on Thursday 9 June. 

The lecture, at Strathclyde's Technology and Innovation department, featured a speaker from global services firm ARUP, which won the bid to design the Qatari 2022 World Cup stadium. According to the event page, it featured a discussion of the "complex problems arising" from the stadium construction. 

“The continuing appalling abuse suffered by migrant workers in Qatar is unacceptable.” Pauline Kelly, Amnesty International

Laura Wood, of the Glasgow branch of Anti-Slavery International, told CommonSpace: "I want engineers to recognise their role or responsibility in perpetuating modern slavery. Distance doesn't equal less responsibility for what happens on construction sites.”

Wood said she wanted to see ICE publicly call for an end to the 'Kafala' system, under which migrant workers in Qatar and the Gulf region have their passports confiscated by employers and can spend years unable to return home. The campaigners also called for transparency in the engineering industry regarding the operations of subsidiaries in regions such as the Gulf. 

ICE director Sara Thiam responded to Anti-Slavery International in an email, seen by CommonSpace, in which she said that the event was "a technical lecture aimed at professional engineers". Thiam said ICE had taken "positive steps" to "promote welfare and prevent the exploitation of construction workforces globally", and is helping develop "globally-recognised ethics standards for built environment organisations", but that "none of this is a cause for complacency". 

In response, Anti-Slavery International director Aidan McQuade said: "Because of my background [as a civil engineer] I feel that it is particularly important that the Institution of Civil Engineers considers the challenges of construction in Qatar in terms that are broader than the technical ones associated with reinforced concrete and steel." 

A series of investigations by the Guardian newspaper have highlighted the high death toll and 'modern-day slavery' found on the World Cup construction projects in Qatar, with 2014 seeing one worker dying every two days. Temperatures topping 50 degrees celcius and a lack of safety measures have been blamed for the high death rate among the Nepalese, Indian and Sri Lankan migrant workers. 

"I want engineers to recognise their role or responsibility in perpetuating modern slavery.” Laura Wood, Anti-Slavery International

Commenting on the protests, Pauline Kelly of Amnesty International said: “The continuing appalling abuse suffered by migrant workers in Qatar is unacceptable. Players and fans consider the World Cup to be the highest standard of football, but the workers building the stadiums are experiencing the lowest standards of human rights.

“Many workers are housed in squalid camps, grossly underpaid, and then not paid for several months, creating huge financial and emotional pressures. In the circumstances, it would be understandable if migrant workers wished to leave Qatar, but they cannot as their employers hold their passports.

“Despite five years of promises, FIFA has failed almost completely to stop the World Cup being built on human rights abuses. This global sporting event must not be built on the backs of abused migrant workers.”

ARUP had not responded to requests for comments at the time of publication.

Picture courtesy of MarieClaire Lacey

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