Qatar Airways began daily service from Boston last week, and its arrival brings some pretty heavy baggage. The “luxury” airline is owned by the State of Qatar, an oil-rich dictatorship in the Middle East on the border of Saudi Arabia, where migrant workers are dying by the thousands in deplorable working conditions akin to slavery. It’s estimated by independent human rights groups that 4,000 workers will die building the 2022 FIFA World Cup soccer stadiums in Doha.
At the Alliance for Workers Against Repression Everywhere (AWARE), we are working to expose U.S. trade relations with companies like Qatar Airways and countries like its namesake that abuse their workers and deny their human rights. That’s why we’re calling for a boycott.
In my career as a progressive political activist and issue advocate, I have mostly worked on domestic economic issues, but in this increasingly inter-connected world, the fight for workers’ rights and social justice, even for those of us working on domestic issues, has become not just an American struggle, but a global one. If we allow dictatorial-state-run global corporations to play by a different set of rules, to profiteer off of human pain and suffering, we will surely be importing that pain to our own shores when American workers can no longer compete economically. We will never win a race to the bottom, and we shouldn’t want to do so, for winning a race to the bottom is a loss for all working people everywhere. The only people winning a race to the bottom are the billionaires who make money off workers everywhere.
Let me take a moment to quantify what that pain means, both with the airline and the country.
Qatar Airways mandates that its employees live in company housing with strict curfews, surveillance, grooming policies, and weight limits. These employees are banned from marrying without the company’s permission, and female employees who become pregnant can be terminated. Homosexuality is illegal in the State of Qatar, so the LGBT community lacks any protection there. All workers in Qatar are banned from unionizing or protesting any problem, no matter how outrageous. Domestic workers are not covered by the country’s few labor laws and are subject to 100-plus-hour workweeks and egregious sexual and physical assault. Further, employers can hold domestic workers against their will, and confiscate their passports. All legal migrant workers are held in what is essentially indentured servitude, with their visas also held at their employer’s whim.
These workers are often denied wages, forced to live in unsanitary housing, and work in horribly unsafe conditions. Every week, approximately 29 migrant workers die. Journalists who try to cover these atrocities have been illegally detained and questioned.
At a time when we are debating new trade deals with countries where workers are badly exploited, it is clear that American workers suffer when U.S. trade policy is rigged in favor of countries that exploit their own workforce. That exploitation is a hidden human subsidy to that country’s state-owned corporations. But American workers suffer when global workers suffer. Next time you consider flying on Qatar Airways, ask yourself if you want your dollars to feed that system. Join us in boycotting Qatar Airways and other global companies with deplorable human rights records.