Qatar Abolishes Kefala
Today Qatar took a major step toward addressing global criticism by announcing the abolishment of its kefala, or sponsorship, system. Under that system, foreign workers were sponsored by their employers, who often confiscated their passports and prevented them from changing jobs or filing complaints if their working or living conditions were dismal. Now, the system will be replaced with employment contracts regulated by the state, which will punish employers with fines of up to 50,000 Qatari riyals ($13,700) per passport they confiscate.
Today's announcement follows a number of initiatives over the past few months. Qatar has introduced new worker welfare guidelines, increased the number of labor inspectors by 25 percent, and moved World Cup stadium workers into gleaming new accommodations.The biggest question is whether the new laws will be rigorously enforced. I can easily see the Qatari government closely policing internationally watched projects such as World Cup sites and branches of foreign universities, while ignoring projects of only local interest undertaken by well-connected businessmen.
UPDATE: David Roberts has an excellent post on this.