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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Amnesty International said Thursday that Qatar is failing to deliver on reforms for its migrant workers a year after the wealthy Gulf nation announced plans to improve conditions for low-paid laborers building its highways, hotels, stadiums and skyscrapers.
In a new briefing paper, the London-based rights group criticized the 2022 World Cup host for making no substantive changes on some labor issues, including the controversial "kafala" employee sponsorship system, and delivering only partial progress in other areas.
Qatar is being transformed by a building boom fueled by its vast oil and natural gas wealth. Like other energy-rich Gulf nations with relatively small local populations, it relies on well over a million guest workers, many of them drawn from South Asian nations including India and Nepal.
In May 2014, officials outlined plans for legislation that could end in its current form the kafala system that ties expatriate workers to a single employer. The draft law also would allow workers to obtain exit visas without having to secure their employers' consent. Rights groups say the existing policies leave workers open to exploitation and abuse.
Amnesty says the reforms aren't coming fast enough.
"We've had a year, and not much has changed. For us that's a really important thing," Amnesty's Gulf migrant rights researcher Mustafa Qadri said in an interview. "The situation has probably gotten worse because you have more workers now. ... There's a matter of urgency."
Qatari officials previously have acknowledged shortcomings, including in areas such as staff accommodation, and have vowed to improve conditions for workers. They did not respond to a request for comment ahead of the release of Amnesty's latest report Thursday.
The OPEC member state has come under intense scrutiny over its labor policies since winning the right to host the World Cup in 2010. Sepp Blatter, who is hoping to win a fifth term as president of soccer's world governing body FIFA in elections next week, pressed Qatar's emir in March to do more to improve working conditions.
FIFA welcomed the Amnesty report, and said it along with trade unions and rights groups will continue to press Qatar to enact reforms and abolish the kafala system.
"FIFA has repeatedly urged publicly and with the highest authorities in Qatar that fair working conditions for all workers in Qatar are imperative," it said.
In its briefing paper, Amnesty called Qatar's proposed changes to the kafala and exit visa system inadequate, and noted that none of those reforms has yet been implemented.
The reform legislation is currently under review by Qatar's consultative Shura Council. Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Abdullah Saleh Mubarak al-Khulaifi told The Associated Press earlier this month that he could not provide a timeframe for the law to be implemented, but he hoped it would come into effect by the end of the year.
Amnesty meanwhile said no new laws have been passed to protect the rights of domestic workers, and it noted that migrant workers remain blocked from forming or joining trade unions.
Only limited improvements have been made on other issues, including putting an end to hefty fees workers often pay to secure jobs and stopping deceptive recruitment practices that "can amount to human trafficking," according to Amnesty.
The rights group did acknowledge Qatar's progress on ensuring that workers get paid through a new system that requires companies to make direct deposits to workers.
But it cautioned that the system has yet to be fully implemented — the labor minister can extend an August deadline — and it remains unclear how it will protect what Amnesty said were tens of thousands of workers who do not get paid regularly or work under informal arrangements.
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