DOHA: A leading human rights organisation has demanded that Qatar overhaul its labour laws for the immigrant workers expected to be hired for the multi-million construction projects ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, told a press conference in Doha that “the government needs to ensure that the cutting-edge, high-tech stadiums it’s planning to build for World Cup fans are not built on the backs of abused and exploited workers.”

Leah Whitson was commenting after the publication of a 152-page report – Building A Better World Cup – into exploitation of immigrant workers in the Gulf state. Problems it identified included exorbitant recruitment fees which can take years to pay off as well as the ‘security’ confiscation of workers’ passports by employers.

Another problem picked out by the New York-based group was a ‘sponsorship law’ common to the Gulf region by which immigrant workers cannot change jobs without the permission of the employer which also controls exit permits.

Thousands of men and women from South Asia have flooded into the region for decades to work on construction sites, oil projects or as domestic help.

HRW called on Qatar to set an example of progressive employment standards for the rest of the region. It also called on world football federation to insist on labour rights standards in its World Cup hosting demands.

In January, Qatar said World Cup organisers would ensure contractors adhered to international labour laws for workers employed in construction projects before the tournament.

Qatar intends to spend $11bn on a new international airport, $5.5bn on a deepwater seaport and $1bn for an already badly-needed transport corridor in the capital, Doha. It will spend $20bn on roads.

FIFA has already agreed to organise a a joint meeting with HRW later this year and insisted that its Corporate Social Responsibility programmes meant it had long been working with the United Nations, NGOs and development institutions worldwide on social development concerns.

A statement added: “As indicated in the HRW report, FIFA has already started dialogue with representatives from the International Labour Organisation, the International Trade Union Confederation and Building and Wood Workers’ International with regards to labour rights’ issues in the host countries of the three upcoming FIFA World Cups (2014, 2018 and 2022). “The summary of the discussions as well as the concerns expressed by those organisations have been shared with the respective Local Organising Committees.”

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