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US Calls for Qatar to Relax Labor Laws

Michael Ratney. Source: Gulf Times

US Embassy officials are urging a “liberalization” of the sponsorship law to combat forced labor and human trafficking violations within Qatar. The call comes amid increasing speculation regarding a draft law that is currently awaiting approval. Michael Ratney, an embassy official, said: “Trafficking is a serious problem as many expatriate workers make arrangements to come and work in Qatar for a certain wage and a certain number of hours, but then often find themselves to be working double the hours for half the pay when they actually get here.”

A recent human rights report commissioned by the US State Department covering countries to which America provides foreign assistance, stated: “Men and women from Africa, South Asia and the Middle East travel willingly to Qatar as laborers and domestic servants but often subsequently face conditions of forced labor and physical and sexual exploitation.” The report placed some blame for the creation of conditions constituting forced labor or slavery on legislation that guided the sponsorship of expatriate laborers-legislation that leaves foreign workers dependent on employers for residency rights and leaves them unable to change employment or travel without the sponsor’s permission.

The report also pointed the finger at individual employers, contractors and recruitment agencies for the violations, but added “there is no evidence of institutional involvement by government bodies or officials”.

At a press conference held to discuss the report yesterday, Ratney admitted that Qatar has been helpful in providing information, and has made “steady progress” in its human rights record. He hoped that the proposed change in laws would help further this trend, both in Qatar and in the larger region.

Gulf Times, April 9, 2008

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