Mustafa Qadri Speaks on Human Rights Abuses in Qatar

On October 11, Mustafa Qadri spoke to the Human Rights Workshop about human rights abuses of migrant workers in Qatar. As a result of being named host of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar is undergoing large-scale construction and development projects. The Khalifa International Stadium—one of Qatar’s biggest sporting venues—is a key regeneration site. Qadri described how migrant workers, largely from South Asia, comprise more than 90% of Qatar’s workforce. Workers come to Qatar under a sponsorship scheme—the Kafala system—where workers are tied to their employers. According to Qadri, this relationship is the source of huge power imbalances and human rights abuses, with many workers ending up in positions of de facto debt bondage.

Qadri is a human rights research and advocacy expert with more than fourteen years of interdisciplinary experience in public law, journalism, and the non-governmental sector, most recently Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. He has undertaken investigations in Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, Nepal, the United States, and Qatar.

According to Qadri, the “number one rule of human rights work is a duty to those you meet.” Qadri outlined how this duty goes beyond the responsibility “to expose what is happening in silence.” It involves managing expectations and considering the safety and security of those you engage with. During his time in Qatar, Qadri had to carefully consider the methodology of his investigation in order to ensure the safety of migrant workers involved with the construction and landscaping of the Khalifa stadium.

In investigating human rights claims, Qadri encountered two main challenges: how to meet migrant workers in policed spaces, and how to ensure a duty of care. For Qadri, it was essential to spend considerable time in Qatar, meet with local actors outside of the construction projects, and get “knowledge on the ground and build up relationships.” It was clear that being seen “talking to a man with a notepad” would put migrant workers in an even more vulnerable and dangerous position.

His research, co-written with his colleagues at Amnesty International, culminated in the 2016 report “The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game.” The report states, “Every single gardener and construction worker reported abuse of one kind or another.” One of the most startling discoveries of this work to Qadri and his colleagues was FIFA’s response that “it hadn’t thought about human rights.”

Qadri concluded that the main challenge in human rights advocacy, especially within the business sector, is trying to achieve accountability within a web of outsourcing and complicated labor chains. His ambitions as an independent consultant are to try and build pressure in a more sustainable manner by focusing advocacy efforts on corporate sponsors and within migrant workers’ source countries to improve education on rights.