Slavery: a stain on society

Millions continue to suffer, including here in Britain

Football fans across the globe are looking forward with huge anticipation to the 2022 World Cup, which kicks off in Qatar in November. But since the Arab state was controversially awarded the tournament in 2010, the drive to construct a totally new infrastructure capable of delivering the £138 billion project has also come at a massive human cost in slave labour.

More than two million migrant labourers have arrived in Qatar to construct stadiums, hotels, rail networks, even a new city. Many of these workers are from vulnerable backgrounds in countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and other South Asian nations. Qatar’s Kafala “Sponsorship” system has allowed unethical employers to control their foreign workforce by restricting their rights. And according to Amnesty International, these human rights violations amount to forced labour and human trafficking.

Workers have suffered dangerous conditions, substandard accommodation, the confiscation of their passports and salaries retained to prevent them returning home. A report released by the International Trades Confederation (ITUC) estimated that around 1,200 workers have died since 2010 because of substandard working conditions.

And fears of many more fatalities before the tournament begins are a major concern. This continuing abuse has gone largely unacknowledged by FIFA, the governing body of international football, to the condemnation of the European Parliament amongst others. Since 2020 Qatar has introduced some reforms improving the rights and conditions of migrant workers, amidst continuing claims of “too little too late”.

The high-profile and newsworthy nature of the World Cup makes the Qatar situation the most visible example of a largely concealed crime, but figures from the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation, estimate that 40.3 million people worldwide are living in some form of modern slavery. According to Anti-Slavery International, a person is considered enslaved if they are forced to work against their will, are “owned” or controlled by an exploiter or “employer”, have limited freedom of movement, or are dehumanised, treated as a commodity, or bought and sold as property. 

Women and children are estimated to comprise 71% of all modern slavery victims and children are said to make up 25% of the total – meaning there are 10 million child slaves worldwide. The numbers are staggering but can seem distant and detached from the apparent safety of the UK. 

But the hidden nature of slavery conceals a different reality. Human trafficking does not have to involve crossing borders. “Internal trafficking” sees individuals being recruited in one area and moved to another to be exploited.

The Global Slavery Index suggests there are as many as 136,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK alone, and the government produces an annual report which, in 2020, referred to 10,000 potential victims.

History proves that slavery has always been with us. It was highlighted recently as a major storyline in the BBC’s long-running radio soap, The Archers, suggesting to listeners that if slavery can happen in a quiet, rural community like Ambridge, it can happen anywhere.

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