Human rights group calls for boycott of Qatar Airways

A human rights group critical of how Qatar Airways treats its female employees is now calling for a boycott of the flier, saying little has changed despite promises from the airline after a lengthy investigation criticized its practices.

Mike Lux, head of the Alliance for Workers Against Repression Everywhere (AWARE), said he believes the company “has not moved forward in any substantial way” to address serious concerns over its employment practices.

“It’s on and on being criticized on human rights,” Lux told the Gulf News Journal. “They say they are getting better, fixing this and that, but nothing seems to change.”

A year-long investigation by the International Labor Organization, undertaken following complaints that pregnant cabin stewards were being fired, ended after the airline promised it would end the practice.

The ILO criticized the company for firing pregnant employees, but also for barring female from being left off or picked up at work by any male other than a close family member, and banning women from marrying in their first five years of employment.

Qatar Airways promised to change such practices, including finding alternative employment for those in late-state pregnancy. Women make up 80 percent of the airline's 23,000-strong workforce.

Lux describes the human and labor rights abuses at the airline as “scandalous” and similar to slavery, as female employees, mostly from overseas, have their passports taken away and work under strict rules governing where they live.

“In terms of American consumers, I would strongly urge them not to use the airline and send a strong message that human rights problems are a big deal,” Lux said. “Our government should be much more assertive standing up for labor rights.”

AWARE launched its campaign earlier this year after the airline announced direct flights from the Qatari capital, Doha, to Atlanta. The group said the expansion of Qatar’s commercial enterprises, including Qatar Airways, reflects the smoke-and-mirror tactics used by the Qatari government to hide the inhumane treatment of its most vulnerable workers.

“The de facto marketing arm of the state, Qatar Airways, is expanding rapidly across the globe and touts itself as ‘luxurious’ and ‘world-class,’ while at the same time masking egregious human rights abuses being committed within the country,” AWARE said.

AWARE, which strives to turn international attention to policies and business tactics that harm workers’ rights, called on Georgia residents, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, the Atlanta City Council, and all Americans to boycott the airline.

Lux said the airline is an arm of the government, comparable to U.S. agencies and the White House.

“The airline is basically owned by the government,” Lux said.