The UN has given Qatar a year to end its practices of forced labour under the kafala system, if it fails to do so it may face a formal investigation. The nation has until March of 2017 to prove that any changes to the law that it has made are effectively addressing the problem.
The kafala system works by having a migrant worker be sponsored by a kafeel, often a company. Beginning as an Arab tradition of hospitality in the Gulf States, it is the only way a worker can move around between countries in the region. In theory a kafeel is supposed to pay for all of a worker’s health insurance, residency permits, employment fees, and other related costs.
The system, however, prevents a worker from seeking employment for anyone not approved by the kafeel, and in many cases the kafeel will confiscate a worker’s passport. Despite the authorities taking formal complaints against kafeels if a passport is taken, many worker won’t come forward as they may face deportation, wage reductions and other forms of punishment.
Perhaps the most damning part of the system is the tendency for a kafeel to charge the worker the cost of fees that they are traditionally supposed to cover. In some instances they may withhold payments entirely until it is payed off and as a result the worker will have no financial means to escape.
The system, though not always taken to the most extreme, can result in a migrant worker being unable to change employer or leave the country and be burdened down with fees they were not intended to pay and in some cases have payment withheld as a result. If a worker attempts to complain or change their situation they can be face worsened conditions or even deportation. The kafala system is considered to be the modern day equivalent to slavery.