The shadow minister for international development has stepped up the pressure on University College London to stamp out forced labour at a Qatar campus where the institution has a branch.
Alison McGovern, a UCL graduate, has requested a meeting with the university to discuss how it can avoid inadvertently supporting exploitation by subcontractors at the site.
Last week, Times Higher Education reported on a visit to Hamad bin Khalifa University, formerly known as Education City, by a representative of the International Trade Union Confederation. UCL is one of eight Western universities with branches there.
The ITUC found migrant workers on campus who claimed to have had their passports confiscated when they arrived in Qatar, after being forced to pay recruitment fees to get their jobs. They then had to sign new, more poorly paid contracts, the workers added.
Ms McGovern, Labour MP for Wirral South, writes that “UCL should be doing all it can” to stamp out these “unacceptable” practices in any location where it works, “even if the individuals concerned are not direct employees”.
As a UCL alumna, “I have a particular personal interest in this instance,” she adds in a letter to Dame Nicola Brewer, UCL’s vice-provost international.
The academic complex in Doha is managed by the Qatar Foundation, whose subcontractors employed the workers in question. A UCL spokesman said Dame Nicola would raise the matter with the foundation and had agreed to meet Ms McGovern to discuss the issues. Dame Nicola would also respond in full to the claims in a future edition of THE, he added.
Responding to the allegations, a Qatar Foundation spokesman said that a statement of labour standards for its contractors and subcontractors, penned in 2013, had addressed many of the ITUC’s complaints.