The gulf region is currently receiving some of the largest numbers of non- forced migrant workers in the world. 1.4 million migrant workers are employed in Qatar. UAE has 146,000 migrant domestic workers alone. With that huge movement of people; all seeking a means of earning a living, issues surrounding the rights of workers and legal responsibility of host nations has been brought into sharp focus.
The 2014 Global Slavery Index report reveals Qatar to have the fourth highest concentration of slaves relative to its population, behind Haiti and Uzbekistan. It is difficult to ignore the increasing media reports in recent months on failures to uphold the rights of workers employed to build the stadiums and tourist attractions in Qatar for the 2022 world cup, as well as the recent expose on treatment of migrant domestic workers in the UAE. The traditional practice of kafala (which supersedes labour laws) effectively licenses abuse of employees by bonding them to their employer, restricting their ability to exercise rights or seek alternative employment within the country.
In defence of such practices it could be argued that the jobs being provided are a vital lifeline to millions of families in the midst of a troubled global economic landscape. Many of the workers suffering injustice would be loathe to return home with no job at all rather than suffer the hardship of long hours and dangerous or abusive working conditions. And yet, the rights of the worker are vital to maintaining the value of human life in our world. An economic elevation built on a foundation of unjust employment practices will ultimately lead to social implosion; devaluing human life and perpetuating the disparity between rich and poor in the years to come.
This does not mean that the responsibility to protect the rights of workers rests solely with the governments of nations to legislate. In countries such as the UK, legislation like the Modern Slavery Bill has often followed private industry and business leadership, responding to the outcry of consumers. It has often been the major corporations that have taken the lead in self- legislating better working conditions for employees. State and privately owned companies in UAE and Qatar have asserted their ambitions to be world leaders in culture, leisure, sport and environmental sustainability. It remains to be seen what leadership they will choose to take in elevating the rights and conditions of the worker.