Primark and Tesco take lessons from Qatar on migrant workers’ rights

Primark and Tesco take lessons from Qatar on migrant workers’ rights after attending workshops to learn how Gulf state dealt with fallout from World Cup stadium builders’ deaths

  • Bosses from Primark and Tesco attended seminars to learn labour ethics abroad
  • Qatar was slammed by UN for spate of worker deaths preparing for World Cup
  • But country reformed its safety protocols and implemented fairer pay schemes 

Primark and Tesco have been getting lessons from Qatar on migrant workers’ rights after the country introduced a series of reforms on the back of construction deaths leading up to the 2022 World Cup.

The cut-price clothes chain and supermarket attended workshops to hear how the organisers of the next World Cup started hiring labour ethically.

Ever since it won its bid to host the 2022 tournament Qatar has been heavily criticised over the rights of migrant workers building its stadiums after a spate of deaths due to poor safety standards.

Mahmoud Qutub- Executive Director of Workers’ Welfare – holds a seminar in front of bosses from Primark and Tesco

But the Gulf state recently introduced a series of reforms which have been praised by Human Rights Watch and the International Labour Organisation.

Primark and Tesco were among a host of multi-nationals who this week attended two events at the London offices of the ethical trade consultancy, Impactt.

One of these concerned the issue of recruitment fees, whereby workers from South Asia run up huge debts paying fixers who find them work in the Gulf.

Tesco attended the workshop to hear how the organisers of the next World Cup started hiring labour ethically

When it began building its eight stadiums Qatar was criticised by human rights groups for using workers who already owed thousands of pounds in recruitment fees before they had even started work.

But Doha has since launched a Universal Payments System which forced 120 companies to reimburse 31,000 workers with £17m.

It followed a similar move by Apple which paid back £22m to 34,000 of its workers.

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Typically, a worker from Nepal or Bangladesh will pay between $800-$1500 to recruiters who are sub-contracted to find them work abroad – with the fee also covering travel costs, medical check-ups and government fees.

But under the Universal Payments System they get on average $900 back from the companies who hire them.

Primark and Tesco have both worked to stamp out the scourge of recruitment fees which are illegal under international law and affect 25 million people worldwide.

Primark bosses also attended to hear how Qatar turned around its poor migrant worker policies in the lead up to the 2022 World Cup

In 2017 Tesco was among a group of companies which signed up to Responsible Recruitment Gateway which was set up to move firms towards the ‘Employers Pay’ model of hiring workers.

Among the 11 companies who also joined in the campaign were Unilever, IKEA, M&S, Coca Cola, Hewlett Packard and Walmart.

Earlier this month the ‘2018 Apparel & footwear benchmark finding report’ said Primark was among a group of only four companies that reimbursed recruitment fees to workers in their supply chains. Eighteen out of 43 companies surveyed scored zero for doing nothing.

In its Modern Slavery Statement last year Primark also said it had provided 7000 hours of training to prevent exploitation in its supply chain which employs 77,600 people in a range of countries including China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam and Turkey.

Activists and leading international labour unions had accused Qatar of subjecting migrant workers to slave-like conditions on jobs that included infrastructure projects for the World Cup

Qatar’s workshops also looked at Workers Welfare Forums which it has launched with the International Labour Organisation to air grievances.

Workers are now able to use their smartphones to send money home to their families instead of queuing at banks on their day off, and accommodation has been centralised and improved.

Mahmoud Qutub, Senior Adviser and Executive Director of Workers’ Welfare, who presented the workshops, said: ‘It is evident there are several organisations facing the same challenges that we have encountered. We are delighted that our progress can serve as a case study and benchmark for best practice for other organisations seeking to make a positive impact in workers’ welfare’.’

Workers were dying while working in the blistering heat with poor safety regulations. Pictured: Workers at Losail Studium in Doha

Talking about the flak Qatar has had over workers’ rights since it began work building eight stadiums, he pointed to moves to abolish the hated ‘kafala’ system of sponsored labour which had led to workers being kept in slave-like conditions.

‘We take the criticism, but when there’s good work being done, just acknowledge, ‘ he said. ‘The World Cup is a once in a lifetime moment and if you don’t use it for the betterment of society, what’s the point?’ I hope the kafala system will be abandoned very soon’.

Libby Annat, Primark’s Controller of Ethical Trade and Sustainability, said: ‘A great session with Qatar highlighting its work on migrant labour and workers’ welfare.

‘We can all make progress on the global goals and do decent work if we look outside our own industries and sectors and share solutions’. 

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