Georgetown University is in a position of great power regarding the rights of abused migrant workers in Qatar. So far, it has shirked its responsibility by allowing Qatari standards to dictate treatment of its own employees.
As Georgetown’s Washington, D.C. campus re-examines the rights of graduate students to be recognized as workers, now is the time to focus our attention on the conditions of workers at Georgetown’s Qatar campus. For too long, Georgetown’s administration has ignored or deflected important questions about GU-Q. Georgetown must investigate and address the working conditions of employees on its campus in Qatar.
In Qatar, abuse and exploitation of workers is the norm rather than the exception. According to Human Rights Watch, “many migrant workers complain that employers failed to pay their wages on time, and sometimes not at all. Many workers face physical and sexual abuse.”
Georgetown, along with seven other universities with campuses in Qatar’s Education City, relies heavily on migrant labor, according to The Guardian. However, these workers do not fall under Georgetown’s Just Employment Policy, which draws from “Catholic social teaching on the dignity of work and the rights of workers.”
Instead, GU-Q workers are dependent on the standards set by the Qatar Foundation, an organization for Qatari development founded and governed by the Qatari royal family.
If Georgetown truly believes it has a responsibility to treat its employees in accordance with Jesuit values, the JEP ought not be limited to American borders. An investigation into working conditions is long overdue.
The United Arab Emirates, which shares Qatar’s proclivity for autocracy and its disregard for workplace safety, is home to a New York University campus, which was investigated by The Guardian in 2013. The reporting revealed the inescapable misery many of the workers faced. Campus construction workers lived in cramped conditions, were assaulted by their bosses and were denied medical care by their employers — who, in accordance with UAE and Qatari law, are solely responsible for such services.
NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus and Georgetown’s Qatar campus both operate amid extensive government control, poor legal protection for workers and government-owned media. The main difference between the two is exposure. The dangerous conditions of one have been uncovered, while the questions of the other remain unanswered.
This editorial board is hardly the first body to challenge Georgetown for the treatment of its Qatari workers.
In August 2017, the United Nations Business and Human Rights Resource Centre asked 19 schools with Qatar or UAE campuses about their treatment of migrant workers’ human and labor rights.
Georgetown refused to participate. Instead, the administration issued a statement claiming it would “continuously review our policies and practices to ensure labor standards and practices that align with our values as a Catholic and Jesuit institution.”
This statement did not address the true problem. Georgetown may have adequate policies regarding workplace protection, but it has failed to ensure that they are applied to GU-Q. The administration has failed to provide transparency, which is inexcusable given past reporting on campuses similar to GU-Q.
For example, in 2017, DeGioia and Sheikha Hind mint Hamad Al Thani, CEO of Qatar Foundation, established a Joint Task Force on Worker Welfare, designed to research best practices for laborers overseen by both the Foundation and the university.
The task force was not previously publicly acknowledged and was disclosed to The Hoya in a Feb. 9 email.
Over the past year, Task Force recommendations like combating unethical recruitment practices, improved training for workers regarding their rights and enhancing monitoring and auditing of contractors have been implemented.
Georgetown’s administration has regularly deflected criticisms of its Qatar campus by emphasizing the importance of dialogue with the Gulf state.
The administration has regularly deflected criticisms of its Qatar campus by emphasizing the importance of dialogue with the Gulf state. In 2015, University President John J. DeGioia said, “Being engaged is better than not. We are contributing, I think, to building a common good in the region.” Those are worthy and important objectives; this editorial board supports the preservation of GU-Q.
However, Georgetown has not yet made a good-faith effort to truly engage with the region. University administrators must allow an independent investigation of working conditions on its GU-Q campus, as well as investigations into contractors used by GU-Q. In the meantime, Georgetown must extend the JEP to the Qatar campus.
Georgetown’s unwillingness to investigate its Qatar campus implies that only some people and geographies are morally bound by Jesuit values. By turning a blind eye to inappropriate working conditions, Georgetown is ignoring its commitment to social justice.
This editorial was updated Feb. 13 to include the previously-undisclosed Qatar Foundation-Georgetown University Joint Task Force on Worker Welfare.
Please do your research before publishing such nonsense claims.
“The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) hailed a “new era for workers’ rights in the country” and urged neighbouring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to follow suit.”
Salar Mujeeb Khan says
Let me introduce myself first. My name is Salar Khan, GU-Q graduate class of 2015 and I have been involved in the issue migrant welfare in Qatar since 2012. I have visited 50+ labor camps and labor accommodations, and have interacted with 800+ blue collar workers.
I started working in the Field of Migrant Welfare only because Georgetown Qatar had repeatedly raised awareness regarding the topic of Migrant Welfare in Qatar. I am currently working for a migrant welfare NGO and I interact with Georgetown at regular bases because GU-Q is one of the few institutes in Qatar that is always supportive of our initiatives.
This article is highly biased not just against GU-Q but Qatar as well.
GU-Q is one of the leading institutes in advocating for and working towards the migrant welfare of not only it’s own employees but also across Qatar Foundation and Qatar. GU-Q not only supports the migrant welfare projects initiated by other institutes but it initiates it’s own projects. Faculty, and staff encourage students to conduct research on this specific topic, and have workshops and conferences to know more about this issue. One of the CEP trips of GUQ was solely based to study the migration policies.
The facilities management (FM) office at GU-Q has supported the Qatar Foundation Migrant Welfare Department in many of it’s initiatives. The GU-Q FM office is repeatedly consulted prior to any tendering process. The outsourced workers at GU-Q are surveyed by the FM department to ensure that they are being treated well by their parent company. The people working at GU-Q building are provided repeated opportunities to interact with students during NSO, sports events, and at many other occasions.
Now speaking about the overall migrant welfare condition in Qatar, I can with full confidence say that the conditions are improving for the migrants in Qatar. The progress is slow because of the large number of blue collar workers however it is improving. I personally have visited many labor camps and accommodations, met with hundreds of blue collar workers and over the past few years the overall condition has improved.
No doubt there are cases which are highlighted by the media, but these cases are rare. There are thousands of cases where the labor welfare standards are followed but obviously the media does not like to mention those cases because it does not provide an exciting story.
In conclusion I would like to say that no doubt you have criticized GU-Q for a lot of things but at the same time you have ignored everything GU-Q has done to improve the condition of not only GU-Q workers but the whole of Qatar Foundation. The author has written this article with lack of on-ground knowledge.
Ray Jureidini says
Dear Editorial Board,
Regarding your editorial “Extend Rights to Qatar Campus” on 26 January 2018. While it is laudable that concern over the conditions of migrant workers on Georgetown – Qatar campus be addressed and questioned, it is surely incumbent upon the Board to first do some homework before posting allegations that nothing has been done. Inquiries by representatives from Washington were formally made to Qatar years ago and the Qatar campus has been addressing and taking up many issues of general and individual cases, liaising with the Qatar Foundation with considerable success. This does not mean that all the problems have been overcome, but the accusation that nothing is being done is patently false.
Professor Rajai Ray Jureidini
Migration Ethics and Human Rights
Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics
College of Islamic Studies
Hamad Bin Khalifa University
PO Box: 34110 Doha, Qatar