Advancing the labour rights of migrant workers beyond Kafala: the impact of ‘established-outsider relations’ on reforming Qatar’s transnational labour management system

Authors:
Nicola Piper Queen Mary University of London, UK

Search for other papers by Nicola Piper in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
and
Vani Saraswathi Migrant-Rights.Org

Search for other papers by Vani Saraswathi in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
Restricted access
Get eTOC alerts
Rights and permissions Cite this article

In the years following Qatar’s successful 2010 bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, there has been a significant shift in its engagement with the migrant labour rights discourse, and subsequent embarkment on significant reforms as the result of intense international scrutiny and advocacy action. The core feature of Qatar’s historically evolved transnational labour management system, Kafala, has become a key focal point of international advocacy efforts. The objective of this article is to assess the extent to which the reforms constitute a break in Qatar’s historical (that is, pre-FIFA 2022) labour management system, and thus a meaningful disruption to the social reproduction regime that allowed the Kafala system to persist. We do so by probing the institutionalisation of those reforms, with a particular focus on the agency of labour through collective worker empowerment. Drawing on interviews with key transnational actors involved in the reform process in situ, we employ the ‘established-outsider’ relations concept in our analysis of the reforms, while highlighting the remaining challenges. Our ultimate argument is that although the reforms in Qatar seek to provide more labour rights and protections, they fall short of loosening the absolute control of sponsors (kafeels) over their employees. This is due to two main reasons: the absence of strong and effective institutions to convert the legal reforms into rights in practice; and the fact that laws outside of the labour ministry, that fall under the jurisdiction of the interior ministry, are the foundation of the relationship between citizens and migrants and remain largely untouched. These double-edged limitations guarantee the social reproduction of the highly unequal labour mobility system by firmly keeping in place ‘established-outsider’ relations.

  • AlShehabi, O. (2019) Policing labour in empire: the modern origins of the Kafala sponsorship system in the Gulf Arab States, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 48(2): 120. doi: 10.1080/13530194.2019.1580183

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Amnesty International (2019) Reality Check: The State of Migrant Workers’ Rights with Four Years to Go until the Qatar 2022 World Cup, London: Amnesty International, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde22/9758/2019/en/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Babar, Z. (2015) Population, power, and distributional politics in Qatar, Journal of Arabian Studies, 5(2): 13855. doi: 10.1080/21534764.2015.1113680

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Babar, Z. and Vora, N. (2022) The 2022 World Cup and migrants’ rights in Qatar: racialised labour hierarchies and the influence of racial capitalism, The Political Quarterly, 93(3): 498507. doi: 10.1111/1467-923x.13154

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baglioni, E., Campling, L., Coe, N.M. and Smith, A. (eds) (2022) Labour Regimes and Global Production, Newcastle Upon Tyne: Agenda Publishing.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Basok, T. (2009) Counter-hegemonic human rights discourses and migrant rights activism in the US and Canada, International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 50(2): 183205. doi: 10.1177/0020715208100970

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bourdieu, P. (1985) The social space and the genesis of groups, Theory and Society, 14(6): 72344, http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0304-2421%28198511%2914%3A6%3C723%3ATSSATG%3E2.0.CO%3B2-T. doi: 10.1007/BF00174048

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chi, X. (2008) Challenging managed temporary labour migration as a model for rights and development for labor-sending countries, NY University Journal of International Law and Politics, 40(2): 497540, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1153177.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Drahos, P. (2017) Regulation Theory: Foundations and Applications, Canberra: ANU Press.

  • Elias, N. and Scotson J.L. (1994) The Established and the Outsiders, London: Sage. doi: 10.4135/9781446222126

  • Ewers, M., Diop, A., Trung Le, K. and Bader, L. (2023) Resilience and sustainability in the Gulf migration regimes: Kafala in the era of COVID-19, Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 21(1): 2844. doi: 10.1080/15562948.2022.2128496

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fargues, P. and Shah, N.M. (eds) (2018) Migration to the Gulf: Policies in Sending and Receiving Countries, Cambridge: Gulf Research Centre Cambridge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hennebry, J., Piper, N., Hari, K.C. and Williams, K. (2022) Bilateral labor agreements as migration governance tools: an analysis from a gender lens, Theoretical Inquiries in Law, 23(2): 184205. doi: 10.1515/til-2022-0015

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • International Labor Rights Case Law (ILRCL) (2020) Report, ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR): Observation on the Application of the Forced Labor Convention, 1930 (no. 29) by Qatar (ratification: 1998), International Labour Conference, 109th session, ILRCL 6: 241–49.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Iskander, N. (2021) Does Skill Make Us Human? Migrant Workers in 21st-Century Qatar and Beyond, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jureidini, R. (2019) Global governance and labour migration in the GCC, in L.A. Pal and M.E. Tok (eds) Global Governance and Muslim Organizations, pp 33964. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-92561-5_14

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kanna, A. (2012) A politics of non-recognition? Biopolitics of Arab Gulf worker protests in the year of uprisings, Interface, 4(1): 14664.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Longva, A.N. (2005) Neither autocracy nor democracy but ethnocracy: citizens, expatriates and the socio-political system in Kuwait, in P. Dresch and J. Piscatori (eds) Monarchies and Nations, pp 11435. doi: 10.5040/9780755611645.ch-005

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McManus, J. (2022) Inside Qatar, London: Icon Books.

  • Mezzadri, A. (2019) On the value of social reproduction, Radical Philosophy, 2.04: 3341, https://www.radicalphilosophy.com/article/on-the-value-of-social-reproduction.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Palmer, W. and Piper, N. (2023) Regulatory (mal)integration: its implications for migrant workers’ ability to access employment rights in Indonesia, Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 21(2): 20316. doi: 10.1080/15562948.2022.2142349

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Piper, N. (2022) The International Labour Organisation as nodal player on the pitch of networked governance: shifting the goalposts for migrant workers in Qatar, Global Social Policy, 22(2): 32340. doi: 10.1177/14680181211065240

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rodriguez, R.M. (2011) Philippine migrant workers’ transnationalism in the Middle East, International Labor and Working-Class History, 79(1): 4861. doi: 10.1017/s0147547910000384

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sen, A. (1999) Development as Freedom, 1st edn, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Stammers, N. (2009) Human Rights and Social Movements, London: Pluto Press.

  • Thiollet, H. (2011) Migration as diplomacy: labour migrants, refugees, and Arab regional politics in the oil-rich countries, International Labour and Working-Class History, 79: 10321. doi: 10.1017/s0147547910000293

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Thiollet, H. (2016 ) Managing migrant labour in the Gulf: transnational dynamics of migration politics since the 1930s, IMI Working Papers Series, No. 131, https://sciencespo.hal.science/hal-01346366/document

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wickramasekara, P. (2015) International Labour Organization (ILO) and broader civil society: an uneasy relationship?, presentation slides, November 11, 2015. doi: 10.2139/ssrn.2689000

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Xiang, B. (2013) Multi-scalar ethnography: an approach for critical engagement with migration and social change, Ethnography, 14(3): 28299. doi: 10.1177/1466138113491669

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
Nicola Piper Queen Mary University of London, UK

Search for other papers by Nicola Piper in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
and
Vani Saraswathi Migrant-Rights.Org

Search for other papers by Vani Saraswathi in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close

Content Metrics

May 2022 onwards Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 1071 1071 112
Full Text Views 23 23 6
PDF Downloads 37 37 10

Altmetrics

Dimensions