The dust has settled over the newly built stadiums in Qatar, where fans worldwide experienced the magic of soccer. The tournament was made possible due to the hard labour and sacrifices of two million migrant workers from Sri Lanka, Sudan, Pakistan, Nepal, and others from the Global South. Forced labour, unpaid wages, excessive working hours, and dangerous accommodations were just some of the hardships workers faced. Countless workers lost their lives and never returned home.
In Qatar, the ‘Kafala’ system, sponsor-based employment, under which migrant workers were tied to their employer, created the conditions for widespread exploitation. Workers were prohibited from changing jobs or even leaving the country without their employers’ permission, leaving them trapped in a cycle of abuse and exploitation. Intense public scrutiny brought on during the World Cup forced Qatar to undertake labour reforms that include abolishing the ‘Kafala’ system.
Although Canada’s government, including the Sports Minister, made a show of refusing to attend the tournament as a gesture of solidarity against the human rights abuses of the LGBTQ+ community and migrant workers, Canada has failed to apply the same standards and analysis to its own immigration system. The Temporary Foreign Workers Program, the primary vehicle for temporary migrant labour in Canada, is racist, exploitative, and unjust. Migrant workers are trapped in abusive situations, overworked, underpaid, and exploited. During COVID, migrant workers worked and lived in cramped spaces and were deprived of basic rights since they do not have permanent resident status.
As a result, there were mass outbreaks of COVID on farms, with many workers falling ill and some dying. As with the ‘Kafala’ system, migrant workers in low-waged occupations in agriculture, hospitality, construction, and so on are tied to their employers. If they change employers, even in cases of abuse and exploitation, workers can lose their status and face detention and/or deportation.
If Canada wants to live up to its international image as a country where human rights are respected, we must lead by example. At a minimum, Canada has to abolish the closed work permit system immediately. Otherwise, exploitation and human trafficking of migrant workers will continue to thrive, and the Canadian government should be held accountable for it.
What can you do?
1. Advocate for Open Work Permits for migrant workers. Endorse the declaration
2. Book the Migrant Workers Experiential Exercise and learn more about issues faced by migrant workers.
3. Check out The Secret Menu awareness tool
4. Join the call for StatusforAll