Two construction workers working

The issue of forced labor has long defied quantification at numerous levels: how many people work in conditions of modern-day slavery in supply chains? How much money do labor brokers earn from placing workers in forced labor situations? How much do government officials make from corrupt money flows? How much do employers ‘save’ by transferring costs to workers – and how is this reflected in the price paid by buyers? We are at the early stage of answering some of these queries.

Later in the summer Verité will share data on the ‘cost of a job’ that we have gathered over the past several years. Until we as an anti-slavery community come to grips with the financial flows that facilitate the movement of workers across borders — the payments to employers and recruiters, the sharing of funds between recruiters in sending and receiving countries – we won’t be able to properly allocate responsibility for payments to workers that set them free from debt-bondage.

For now, we can begin to make some back-of-the-envelope calculations about the size of the employment market in one high-risk employment setting, and therefore the scale of the revenue involved. For example, Qatar Foundation (QF) has estimated that the construction of the 2022 World Cup in that country will require the work of 1.5M workers, all of whom will migrate from elsewhere, and primarily from South Asia. The QF has reported that on average these workers will pay $1250 per person to get a job in Qatar. Simple multiplication indicates that the sum total of payments to facilitate employment on Q22 total $1.875 billion! Workers will pay $1.875 billion to get jobs in Qatar.

They will ultimately work for large Qatari construction management firms, or joint ventures between Qatari and international firms – that is, they’ll work for companies with billions in revenue, in a country that will spend a predicted $220B to build the World Cup. Why will workers pay these almost $2B in fees? Essentially because they are desperate for jobs, and their potential employers face no meaningful regulation of recruitment fees. Some of that money will pay for necessary, legal and concrete services: airfare and visas, for example. Some of that money will be fees to labor brokers for the service they are providing. And untold sums will disappear into the pockets of those who help the workers pass from villages in Nepal and India to the worksites on the outskirts of Doha. It doesn’t have to be this way. The billions in transfers demonstrate that there’s enough money to cover the costs of legitimate, transparent and ethical recruitment practice if the will is there. Verité has met many people in Qatar who seek to bring this unregulated and essentially invisible system under control. We hope that quantifying the costs of a job faced by vulnerable workers in Qatar will focus policy and corporate attention on ending this inequitable redistribution.