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Child Labor and Slavery present in Qatar now more than ever?

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Qatar is known for being blind-folded when it comes to human-rights and modern slavery. Now more than ever, as the country is preparing for its 2022 Soccer World Cup, allegations of corruption, through partnerships with questionable companies using child-labor and slavery, could very well shatter Qatar’s ambitions of a clean World Cup.

One of the most apparent issues in Qatar right now is the treatment of the workers hired to build the nation’s infrastructure. Lately, Human Rights Watch and the International Trade Union Confederation allege that the Kafala system (sponsorship system to monitor the foreign workers) leaves migrant workers vulnerable to systematic abuse.

Yet, in September, Qatar, worried that it had a broken image in the wake of the 2022 World Cup and decided to address the concerns about the Kafala system. The country agreed to change it, removing the rights of employers to prevent workers from leaving the country. “This is a positive step for the Qatar employment sector and reflects its intention to improve the rights and freedom of expatriate employees working within the country,” said employment expert Luke Tapp of Pinsent Masons (1).

But if Qatar is officially trying to clear its own name, it doesn’t necessarily apply to the companies and multinationals that Qatar is partnering with. And Qatar’s latest controversially potential partner is the South Korean multinational technology company Samsung, which faces the exact same accusations: child-labor, human rights issues and corruption.

In 2012, Samsung was accused of using child labor in its own factories and the scandal was revealed by China Labor Watch (2). The organization reported on eight of Samsung’s factories and in three of them, underage workers were identified and reported. All of them had conditions considered to be abusive by the watchdog, including illegal requirements, poor working conditions and unlawful contracts. “Workers have testified that they are not only employing staff that are too young but children are also working who have fake IDs“, said Li Qiang, spokesperson for China Labor Watch to The Register.

In 2014, the issue was confirmed and yet not addressed by the South Korean company. The same watchdog organization issued a statement that HEG Electronics (facility contributing to Samsung’s products) employed children under the age of 16 at a factory in Guizhou, Guangdong Province. Following the investigation, Samsung decided to temporarily suspend business with the factory. In 2012, Samsung had promised to address the issue with HEG and “correct child labor and other violations throughout its supply chain” (3). The latest investigation shows that “conditions at HEG failed to improve, they have worsened,” according to China Labor Watch.

Today, Samsung is positioned to become one of Qatar’s key partner companies for the coming years. Samsung should even become the official sponsor for the 2022 World Cup, as well as greatly contributing to the nation’s infrastructure. This year, Samsung’s construction and public work division -Samsung C&T- was awarded the contract for Qatar’s biggest power plant. The facility, which should start operating right before the World Cup, is a $2.46 Billion project, $1.8Billion of which will directly go to Samsung (4). And the friendship between the human-rights lovers is far from over. Qatar’s public work authority Ashghal is still awarding major contracts to foreign companies to keep building the infrastructure to host the World Cup. If most of the stadiums’ plans are already set, there are still gigantic building developments, roads, highways, water and power systems work to do. Samsung C&T is known to be one of the main actors among these projects. The next project for Samsung will change Doha’s future: the IDRIS project launched by Ashghal, an over $3Billion tunnel project to re-sewer the entire ancient city.

Last October, the Republic of Korea and Samsung hosted the visit of engineers from Ashghal in Korea and there is reason to suspect that Samsung sees great potential in working with Qatar, as they have so many points in common. “I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Ashghal president Nasser Ali al Mawlawi for supporting this initiative. Programmes like this can help further enhance the co-operation in the construction sector between the two countries,” (5) said the Korea Ambassador to Qatar, Chung Keejong.

At a time when Western countries increasingly value the ethics behind the companies they are doing business with, the gap will grow with the companies and countries that don’t respect human-rights and open the door to corruption and modern slavery. In the next six years leading up to the World Cup, we will see whether Qatar chooses to remain ignorant when it comes to those issues or seize the opportunity to grow as a world-class leader.

  1. Changes agreed to Qatar’s kafala system for foreign workers, says report, Out-Law, September 22nd 2015
  2. Samsung accused of using child labor in its own factories, The Register, September 5th 2012
  3. Samsung supplier factory found to use child labor, watchdog says, C-Net, Don Reisinger, August 28th 2014
  4. Samsung C&T to build Qatar’s biggest power plant, breakbulk, August 3rd 2015
  5. Four Asghal engineers visit projects sites in Korea, Gulf Times , November 3rd 2014

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