Statement following the New York Times story on the ILO’s work in Qatar

Statement | 11 March 2023
In response to the New York Times story published on 11 March 2023 alleging that “lobbying” by the Government of Qatar ahead of the World Cup turned the ILO “from critic to ally”, the ILO rejects these allegations.

As per its Constitutional mandate, the Organization plays a dual normative function: it supervises compliance of its Member States with ratified international labour conventions and it also provides technical advisory services to governments and social partners to address areas of non-compliance.

In 2017, the Governing Body of the ILO – which acts as the “board of directors” of the Organization and is comprised of governments, employers and workers – unanimously agreed to close the complaint against Qatar, and move forward with a technical cooperation project. By providing such technical advisory services to address the identified problems, the ILO does not relinquish its regular supervisory functions that continue to be carried out by an independent Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations.

As we have explained to the New York Times in the course of a number of interviews over several months, the mechanism used to fund the ILO Qatar Technical Cooperation Programme is no different to the one used in many countries around the world to advance decent work. The operation of the programme has been and continues to be fully transparent, with all related documents - including financing available on the ILO website. We provided the New York Times with all this documentation.

Below is the list of the key points made to the New York Times responding to the wrongful allegations and insinuations made in their article.
  1. In 2017, the International Labour Office and the Government of Qatar signed an Agreement, through which the ILO would provide technical assistance to the country to address labour challenges in the country. This Agreement followed a decision by the ILO Governing Body to close the complaint against Qatar after the Government had demonstrated a commitment to major labour reforms.

  2. This briefing note sets out in more detail the steps taken under the ILO supervisory mechanism and the subsequent negotiations that lead to the opening of the Project Office in Qatar. Following the complaint, some key legislation was adopted, for example the 2017 Domestic Workers’ Law. Going forward, it was agreed to set up a technical cooperation programme to address the issues raised in the complaint and to introduce several more significant measures, including reforms to the kafala system, the introduction of a minimum wage and heat-stress legislation. After the closing of the complaint, there was an annual review of progress to the Governing Body for three years, a procedure that has been applied to similar cases relating to other countries. There was also an independent evaluation of the work achieved through the Technical Cooperation Programme.

  3. The US$25 million in funding from the State of Qatar has been used to run the programme in Qatar over six years. This was never confidential information and was available on the ILO website, as with all technical cooperation projects.

  4. The ILO Technical Cooperation Programme in Qatar is funded through “Direct/Domestic Trust Funds” (DTF). This funding mechanism refers to the cooperation with Member States who entrust the ILO with financial resources to deliver technical assistance in their own territory, over and above the regular support that the ILO can provide from its regular budget. The ILO currently runs 41 technical cooperation projects in 24 countries, financed through this DTF mechanism. It is not unusual for a government to fund an office within their own country, and this funding mechanism does not affect the independence of the ILO.

  5. A single indirect cost rate of 13 per cent on project expenditure is applied on all ILO technical cooperation projects, a practice that is common in all UN system and other development agencies. The US$3.25 million of indirect costs from the ILO Qatar programme, which cannot be classified as a donation, is used for general ILO overheads, which include support for implementation, monitoring and evaluation, management and other administrative support, governance and oversight.

  6. The ILO has pointed to the positive trajectory of labour reforms in Qatar especially since the establishment of the ILO technical cooperation project in Doha, particularly given the short period of time in which they have been adopted. We base our assessment on regular exchanges with workers, employers and the government, as well as administrative and survey data. According to a survey we commissioned in 2022, 86 per cent of low wage workers felt that the reforms had a positive impact on their lives. The labour reforms and the ILO’s work in Qatar have received significant support from many governments, NGOs, trade unions and employers’ organizations from all parts of the world.

  7. At the same time, the ILO has always and continues to highlight specific gaps and challenges that remain in implementation and enforcement. These gaps have been outlined in the annual reports and other publications relating to Qatar. The independent Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations continues its examination of the developments in Qatar in relation to compliance with international labour standards. The latest comments of the CEACR on Qatar are available here.

  8. The meetings that were held between the new ILO Director-General and Qatari officials during the World Cup were part of his programme when visiting the country in December 2022.

  9. During his visit the Director-General also met with migrant workers’ representatives and saw first-hand how some of the accommodation was planned to be converted into accommodation for migrant workers. The tweet that appears in the New York Times article shows the Director-General in a fan zone specifically built for migrant workers in Doha’s industrial area, where he met with workers and some family members to have a first-hand contact with them.

  10. While in Qatar, the ILO Director-General reiterated his message to all that although progress has been made, remaining challenges need to be addressed. A link to the press release can be found here: ILO Director-General concludes visit to Qatar.