Is Qatar getting fat on the backs of slaves?



The rich get richer, but at what cost and to whom?

Qatar has ranked in the top five countries in the world for prevalence of modern day slavery, according to a new report.

The Gulf country, with a slavery prevalence rate of 1.36 per cent, stood only behind North Korea (4.37 per cent), Uzbekistan (3.97 per cent), Cambodia (1.65 per cent) and India (1.40 per cent) in the Global Slavery Index 2016 by the Walk Free Foundation.

Qatar has an estimated 30,300 people living in conditions of modern day slavery, according to the report. The country was given a score of 31.71 out of 100 for vulnerability to slavery. In a ranking of the Middle East and North Africa region, Qatar was followed by Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Yemen, which had estimated slavery prevalence rates of 1.13 per cent each.

Further down the list, Gulf countries Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia ranked from six to nine, with prevalence rates of 0.46 per cent and lower.

The organisation said the kafala sponsorship system, which tied workers to their sponsors, prevented them from changing jobs and punished them for leaving exploitative situations, helped facilitate modern day slavery in many regional countries. Other factors including early marriage, human trafficking and xenophobic attitudes to migrant workers, particularly from Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, were also blamed.

Governments in the region were found to have performed well in creating basic legal frameworks to criminalise modern day slavery but legislative improvements often did not cover domestic workers. Walk Free encouraged more coordination across the region and urged certain governments to do more. Government response for the GCC countries ranked from B for the UAE, to CCC for Qatar, Bahrain and Oman and CC for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

"Some governments in the region have the political security and financial ability to reform current practices and implement effective policies. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar, in particular, can and should do more to improve their troublingly low response scores," it said.

In Qatar specifically, the construction sector was found to be one of the most dominant forms of slavery, reflecting the demand of cheap labour to build infrastructure related to the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the country's National Vision 2030.

The foundation said the majority of construction workers in the country were low, semi and unskilled and vulnerable to...

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