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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Mohamad Nuski/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar has one of the highest rates of modern slavery proportionate to its population, according to the latest edition of the Global Slavery Index.

The index, compiled by the Walk Free Foundation, finds that Qatar has the fifth highest concentrations of “slaves” globally, measured at 1.35 percent of its population, which was estimated at 2.24 million at the time the study was put together.

This equates to around 30,300 people, most of whom are working under “forced labor” in the country’s construction sector, according to the survey.

Country profile

Global Slavery Index 2016

Country profile

However, as in many similar studies which measure by percentages, Qatar’s position is skewed by its relatively small overall population and high number of migrant workers.

When the numbers are rated in absolute terms, Qatar comes in 91st place out of a total of 167 countries assessed for the survey.

The index defines modern slavery as being “situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception, with treatment akin to a farm animal.”

It includes situations of human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, and the sale and exploitation of children.

Top of the table

North Korea heads the table measuring slavery as a proportion of population, with 4.37 percent or 1.1 million people from its 25 million population categorized as “slaves”.

Excerpt from Global Slavery Index 2016

Global Slavery Index

Excerpt from Global Slavery Index 2016

Uzbekistan and Cambodia follow in second and third places respectively.

While India takes fourth place with 1.4 percent of its population regarded as “slaves”, this amounts to 18.4 million people and for Pakistan (in sixth place with 1.13 percent) a total of 2.13 million are working in slavery, according to the index.

In percentages, Qatar fares significantly worse than its Gulf neighbors, however in absolute terms, Saudi Arabia (92,100) and the UAE (37,000) have more people estimated to be working as “slaves”.

Other GCC states are ranked as:

  • Kuwait (joint 25), 0.47 percent of population, 18,200 people;
  • Bahrain (joint 25), 0.47 percent of population, 6,400 people;
  • UAE (32), 0.4 percent of population, 37,000 people;
  • Oman (37), 0.29 percent, 13,200 people; and
  • Saudi Arabia (38), 0.29 percent, 92,100 people.

Countries were assessed on three main themes – the size of the problem, government responses to it and vulnerability of workers to enslavement.

For the latter category, a total of 24 factors were studied, including civil and political protections; social, health and economic rights; personal security and refugees and conflict.

Problem areas

In a detailed country report, Qatar’s sizable lower-income migrant labor population is flagged as its key problem.

“Forced labor in the construction sector is one of the dominant forms of modern slavery in Qatar, reflecting the demand for cheap labor to build extensive infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and National Vision 2030.

The ongoing construction of football stadiums, and the huge infrastructure projects required to access and service these locations, continues to see massive influxes of migrant labor who are vulnerable to abuse,” the report states.

As in numerous previous reports published by international human and labor rights organizations, key problem areas are highlighted as the recruitment process, which creates “debt bondage” for many workers, as they have to take out large loans to pay for their passage to Qatar.

They then have to stay in the country to pay off the debts, often under poor living and working conditions.

Domestic staff are also vulnerable to exploitation, as they are not protected by the country’s labor law and many face maltreatment and abuse from their sponsors.

For illustrative purposes only

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

For illustrative purposes only

Migrant fishermen, mostly from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines are another group of workers who can work in conditions which may be described as forced labor, the report adds.

It welcomes steps already taken or in the works by Qatar’s government to implement reform, including prospective changes to the kafala (sponsorship) system, the introduction of paying workers’ wages by bank transfer, the midday working ban during the summer months and spot checks on recruitment agencies to ensure they are complying with the law.

Further reform

Qatar’s government response is rated as “CCC”. Despite its relative wealth, the report states that Qatar and other countries with high GDP per population, such as Japan, Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong, “can and should be doing more to address modern slavery problems within their borders.”

It makes more than a dozen recommendations for reform, at a government and business level in Qatar.

These include:

  • Creating an independent reform commission, allowing  workers’ freedom of association and collective bargaining;
  • Including domestic workers in the Labor Law;
  • Establishing a minimum wage for domestic staff; and
  • Change the legislation around absconding to ensure that workers who flee abusive or exploitative situations are not criminalized.

You can see the country rankings here, and download the full report here.

Thoughts?

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Chapendra/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Compared to their Gulf peers, Qataris are the least concerned about online snooping by governments and private companies, a new regional study has found.

And nearly two-thirds of citizens would favor tighter internet regulation, initial results from this year’s edition of NorthWestern University in Qatar’s annual survey of media use in Arab states shows.

Only one third (32 percent) of Qataris said they were concerned about the government monitoring their online activity, while more than half (57 percent) said they were not worried about state surveillance.

Experts said this could be due to the government’s more relaxed approach to online debate, compared to its regional neighbors.

Some 6,058 people from Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia were interviewed between Dec. 20, 2015 and Feb. 27 this year for the latest version of the survey, Media Use in the Middle East.

Qatar had the largest percentage of nationals who voiced no concern about government monitoring.

The country was followed by the UAE, with 52 percent saying they were not worried. In Saudi Arabia, 43 percent of nationals said they were concerned by the phenomenon and around one third (35 percent) had no issue with it.

Media Use in the Middle East 2016

NU-Q

Media Use in the Middle East 2016

Compared to last year’s study, online surveillance appears to becoming less of an issue for nationals in Qatar.

Figures from the 2015 report showed that 43 percent of Qataris said they were worried about the government checking what they do online – 11 percent more than this year.

NUQ’s dean and CEO Everette Dennis disclosed some of the results from this year’s survey during a panel discussion at the International Press Institute’s (IPI) World Congress this week.

NU-Q dean Everette Dennis

NU-Q

NU-Q dean Everette Dennis

The full report, which looks at usage and attitudes towards media in Arab states, was conducted by Harris Poll for NU-Q and the Doha Film Institute (DFI), and is set to be released next month.

Online monitoring

According to survey, Qataris are slightly more concerned about private companies monitoring their usage, than they are about the government doing so.

But more than half (53 percent) of Qataris interviewed said they had no concerns about this, compared to 28 percent in Saudi Arabia and 15 percent of Tunisians.

Media Use in the Middle East 2016

NU-Q

Media Use in the Middle East 2016

Reflecting this apparent lack of concern, Qatar nationals were also the least likely to change their social media usage due to privacy concerns.

Less than half (46 percent) said they would, compared to 89 percent of Saudi nationals, three-quarters of Egyptians and two-thirds of Emirati citizens.

Qatar was among five of the six countries featured in the survey where a majority of citizens said they thought the internet in their home country should be more tightly regulated than it is currently.

More than six in every 10 Qataris (62 percent) agreed with this view, compared to nearly seven in 10 Lebanese (68 percent) but just 39 percent of Tunisians.

Media Use in the Middle East 2016

NU-Q

Media Use in the Middle East 2016

While a detailed explanation for these preliminary figures hasn’t yet been released, last year’s edition of the report linked concerns about government surveillance of online activity to support for citizens’ freedom of speech and political efficacy.

“Those who feel the internet offers political empowerment tend to worry about governments checking their online activities, as are those who want more internet regulation,” the 2015 report said.

Meanwhile, the 2014 report “Entertainment Media in the Middle East: A Six-Nation Survey,” by NU-Q and DFI found overwhelming support for government oversight of online content, especially violent or explicit material.

Dr. Justin Martin, assistant journalism professor at NU-Q, told Doha News that one explanation for the relatively low level of concern by Qatar nationals for online surveillance could be due to fewer reported cases of people being imprisoned for critical opinions online, compared to other states in the region.

“In Qatar, unlike the UAE and Egypt, you don’t have a wealth of examples of Qataris being imprisoned for online speech. The UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have dissidents who are visibly and harshly penalized for online speech.

In Qatar, there aren’t groups of journalists being locked up for tweeting criticism of the government, as there is in the UAE or Egypt,” he said.

Still, commentators have previously highlighted a degree of self-censorship that exists here, particularly among some media organizations.

Censorship does exist in Qatar, although few there are few public details of how authorities do this, beyond an automated censorship tool that blocks websites deemed to contain obscene content

Information revealed by WikLeaks in 2014 revealed that Qatar’s State Security Bureau had spent QR3.2 million from October 2010 until April 2014 as a customer of German technology firm FinFisher, which makes “spyware” software which can be used to secretly monitor emails and other forms of online communication.

The extent to which Qatar uses software developed by FinFisher – which says its products are for “targeted and lawful criminal investigation” purposes only – to monitor residents is not clear.

Meanwhile, following the introduction of Qatar’s cyber crime law in September 2014, the Ministry of Interior last year reminded residents that insulting people online, even if as a joke, is a criminal offense.

However, this law focuses primarily on criticisms of individuals, rather than the state itself.

In one of Qatar’s most high-profile cases, poet Mohammed Rashid Al-Ajami was jailed for “inciting to overthrow the regime” and “insulting the Emir,” and convicted in 2012. He was recently released following an Emiri pardon.

Thoughts?

grandmall6

Qatar’s retail sector is expected to be the fastest-growing in the region over the coming years as more modern malls, supermarkets and hypermarkets open their doors, according to a new report.

In Alpen Capital’s latest GCC Retail Industry Report, Qatar’s retail market is forecast to grow on average 9.8 percent annually between 2013 and 2018. That’s considerably higher than its Gulf neighbors, which are expected to have an average growth rate of between 6 and 7 percent each year over the same period.

Supermarkets and hypermarkets, which the report describes as being “relatively underdeveloped in Qatar,” are one of the key sectors driving Qatar’s retail expansion.

Retail sales growth by country, from GCC Retail Industry Report

Alpen Capital

Retail sales growth by country, from GCC Retail Industry Report

It forecasts their growth in Qatar will be 12.1 percent on average annually until 2018, in part due to more international brands set to open stores in the state. For example, Spar Group’s license agreement with Khimji Ramdas Group will enable it to expand in the region, and “a major share of this investment is directed towards Qatar,” the report adds.

Qatar’s ongoing population boom, its young, international demographic and its infrastructure development ahead of the 2022 World Cup are also factors in the projected increase in supermarket sales for the coming years.

Other trends which will contribute to the growth include more residents in the region who are increasingly willing to spend more on healthy and also pre-prepared foods.

Across the Gulf as a whole, sales from super- and hypermarkets are expected to hit US$59.3 billion by 2018, showing an average annual growth of 9.2 percent.

Growth factors

Throughout the region, but particularly in Dubai, the growth of luxury sales – designer fashion and accessories, brand-name watches and jewelry, and perfume – is another factor driving overall retail growth.

While the report describes Qatar as a “growing market for luxury retail,” it notes that most Qatari customers prefer to shop in London, New York, Paris, Milan or Dubai. The report does not suggest a reason for this, although prices for designer goods in Qatar are generally higher than in those cities cited, and the range of stock here can be more limited.

One of the most significant factors contributing to the growth of retail in the region is the construction of more modern shopping malls, which are increasingly favored by many people over small shops and souqs due to the ease of parking and climate-controlled environment. The reports notes:

“Given the current under supply and vast potential, Qatar may see substantial growth in its retail space over the next few years.”

It predicts an annual average rise of 7.9 percent on the space dedicated to “modern retail sales” in Qatar, or malls, from 445,600 square meters in 2013 to 651,200 square meters by 2018.

There are a significant number of new shopping malls currently under construction in Qatar, which are set to open within the time period in question.

Gulf Mall, near Ezdan on the Expressway, has 160,000 sq meters of retail space and is set to open early this year. Meanwhile, Tawar Mall – near Landmark – is about half that size. It was slated to open at the end of 2014 but is still under construction.

Further north on the Expressway, North Gate mall will have 100,000 square meters of leasable space, although it is also some way behind its scheduled opening of last year.Place Vendôme - Lusail

Mall of Qatar and Doha Festival City are among the biggest malls set to open their doors in the coming years, by the end of 2015 and September 2016, respectively.

Meanwhile, Lusail City is set to get Marina Mall, by the waterfront, as well as around 400 stores within the US$1.25 billion Place Vendome development, which is scheduled to open in 2017.

But with all these new openings, there will be casualties. A report issued by retail estate brokerage firm Colliers International in late 2013 warned that as supply starts to exceed demand, vacancy rates particularly in some of the older malls will increase and it will force landlords to cut rents.

Still, more new malls mean more opportunities for international brands to secure premium locations and this could further diversify the existing range of stores in Qatar in the coming years, meaning more choice and a wider range of goods for shoppers.

Thoughts?