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  • Author or Editor: Vani Saraswathi x
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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.

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