Qatar a country associated with my former university has been skating on some human rights violations. Qatar is a very prosperous nation ever since the discovery of oil. The United States has their largest military base in the Middle East in Qatar so naturally the partnership between the two countries is close financially and politically. Qatar also boasts the highest per capita income in the world. 17% of its citizens are millionaires, there is no income tax and employment is 0.1%. Qatar has a relatively low population and in order to man the 3rd largest natural gas reserves in the world they have immigrated 94% of their workforce. This workforce which outnumbers the citizens 5 to 1 and are mostly relegated to low skill level and housemaid type work thanks to the government’s very wise system of injecting Qataris into positions of authority in Qatari organizations.
The Kafala System
The Kafala (sponsorship) system is a system that allows a country to track their migrant workers via the corporations they work for. The company holds on to the workers visa and even passport. The employee must obtain permission from the company do simple tasks such as get another job, acquire a driver’s license, and even open a bank account. Needless to say this system is easy to abuse and places all the power into the company’s hands. Essentially, the company owns you, you can’t leave the country without their consent, you can’t get another job, and you can’t even legally acquire a license to drive anywhere. Qatar is catching heat for this practice because they will be hosting the 2022 World Cup which was also quite controversial. However, other Arab States such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon practice the Kafala system as well. These systems allow the citizens of these wealthy oil rich nations to basically abuse the immigrants who in many outnumber them into working like slaves. They are about a century behind in basic humane labor laws and simply took a page out of the United States book for economic prosperity. If you want to grow as a country get immigrants to work for next to nothing and the country booms.
Why the U.S. Turns a Blind Eye
The reason we don’t hear much about certain countries in the States, but we hear things about Sudan, Syria Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. is because these countries sell us oil and allow us to plop military bases wherever we see fit. As much as the Right Wing would like you to believe that the United States is a moral beacon to the rest of the world, we are just as selfish as other countries and to be honest that’s how it should be. However, that being said the human rights violations simply shouldn’t be ignored, but America has her own list of sins to hide before we go throwing stones at some of our strongest allies in the Middle East.
Similar Labor Practices from Ol’ U.S. of A
These immigration labor laws are very similar to what America has done when it has undertaken large projects the biggest example is the transcontinental railroad. Feudal like systems where employed there and the Chinese were put in grueling often fatal conditions to lay miles of steel through treacherous terrain. At least the Chinese were paid even if barely because just a few years prior almost all the Western Countries had an enterprise of selling free labor for economic projects that needed to be done as well. This system of selling free labor was called slavery. To this day we still employ illegal immigrants from Mexico to do work no one wants to do. Then we complain that they are “stealing jobs and abusing our healthcare system.” When you think about that it’s comical that immigrants who work hard doing dangerous work, we didn’t want to do and get hurt doing this work, we are incensed and complain and don’t want to take care of them. Basically, labor violations such as the kafala system are almost as American as apple pie and to be honest they probably got the idea from us.
What should we or anyone else do?
So, should we just ignore this blatant abuse of economic power on hard workers? In Qatar people are legitimately dying working on massive construction projects in scorching heat under grueling conditions to maybe get paid. This is the 21st century and no one should be subjected to these conditions despite the way things were done in the past. However, should the United States do anything about? This is a grey area. Americans tend to hold on to the idea of being moral policeman against countries that aren’t beneficial to us financially; however, if something happens in a country that we are relatively friendly with and something atrocious happens it gets press for a bit then fades away. In another blog I will go discuss this phenomena and its moral relevance. However, to answer the question this system of oppression for “foreigners” (which should again ring some bells for those who live in the United States) should be sanctioned against and stopped.
The real question is who will step up and challenge some largest suppliers of oil and natural gas and call them on their wrongdoings. If history serves as a lesson, people will talk and talk about the conditions, but no one but the workers themselves will actually do anything about it. In the states worker unionized and fought politically, the French revolted against the corruption of the upper class, and even recently the Egyptians revolted against the high inflation and unemployment amongst other reasons. However, most of these are domestic workers seeking better conditions. Perhaps the best historical example that parallels with migrant workers who sought work in a foreign country in such numbers that they greatly outnumbered the local population, dissented against the host countries policies, and then subsequently revolted is another American classic; the Texas Revolution. Without divulging into whom exactly was justified in their actions I just want to illustrate the point that almost always for a labor conditions to improve for the workers it has to be internally and by the workers themselves.