Jennifer Lopez is urged to scrap the private concert for Qatar Airways that she’s scheduled to perform tonight at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta by the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents nearly 60,000 flight attendants at 18 airlines. An open letter from Sara Nelson, the association’s international president, cites human rights concerns in imploring Lopez to cancel.
Qatar Airways disputes the allegations: “Qatar Airways is a valued partner to Atlanta and Georgia, and accusations against Qatar Airways are not only outdated, they are false and overstated. This has been a non-issue. In fact, employment with the airline is regarded as one of the most sought after and desired in aviation.”
Lopez is scheduled to perform for about 45 minutes tonight at an event celebrating the airline’s start of service to and from Atlanta, hosted by Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker.
Al Baker said during a news conference he was “disappointed” with the protests and said the airline gives its employees a “very handsome salary” and benefits.
“We have a superior product and people are craving for an airline to come here” to give them the type of service Qatar Airways provides, he said. The show will go on as planned, he added.
The association’s open letter to Lopez detailed a number of concerns:
“The problem is that Qatar Airways Group is owned by the nation of Qatar, where being LGBT is illegal, punishable by up to five years in prison. Other illicit sexual relations are punished by flogging, the penalty for adultery being 100 lashes.
Labor Unions are also illegal in Qatar, where immigrants make up 90 percent of the workforce. Upon entering the country, their passports are seized and the migrant workers are often forced into slavery. Those who protest or try to leave are thrown in prison.
Qatar is one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking and slavery. Human Rights groups are lining up against Qatar Airways and there will be a massive protest outside the Fox Theater on May 17.
Qatar’s Chief Executive Officer, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker maintains ‘With every new destination we serve, we seek to become a part of that community.’ This is concerning especially in Atlanta, the bastion of the civil rights movement and birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr.”
“Labor reforms enacted 2015 still require workers to secure their employer’s permission to change jobs or leave the country, preventing them from leaving abusive situations. Having previously placed few restrictions on the activities of international media, authorities detained and interrogated two groups of foreign journalists who were attempting to report on migrant workers’ living and working conditions.”
“The principal human rights problems were the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections, restriction of fundamental civil liberties, and widespread denial of the rights of migrant workers. The monarch-appointed government prohibited organized political parties and restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press, and assembly and access to a fair trial for persons held under the Protection of Society Law and Combating Terrorism Law. Other continuing human rights concerns included restrictions on the freedoms of religion and movement, as foreign laborers could not freely travel abroad. Trafficking in persons, primarily in the domestic worker and labor sectors, was a significant problem. Legal, institutional, and cultural discrimination against women limited their participation in society.”
Qatar Airways issued this statement pertaining to the Washington-based Alliance for Workers Against Repression Everywhere, or AWARE, which participated in an Atlanta protest before Tuesday’s event, and also ran radio ads in Boston before the airline launched service there earlier this year.
“The allegations made by the organization that calls itself AWARE are patently false.
Qatar Airways respects the laws of every country it serves, and does not discriminate on the basis of gender, sexuality, religion or nationality. The airline recruits from all over the world and bases its hiring decisions on the ability of the candidate to provide world-class service.
Qatar Airways questions how a newly founded organization has managed to fund a multi-million dollar campaign that is apparently only targeting a single entity.
Qatar Airways is proud of its employees, and offers leading tax-free pay, housing, global medical coverage and other benefits that combined result in a highly desirable career opportunity. More than 112 nationalities are represented in its cabin crew staff alone, men and women who come to Qatar Airways for the career opportunity that may not be available elsewhere. As a measure of how competitive Qatar Airways roles are, the airline currently receives 5,000 applications every day for cabin crew positions alone.
Within the Group, more than 160 nationalities are represented. Qatar Airways employs 40,000 people.”
Activist Mike Lux, co-founder of Democracy Partners, denounced the airline in a Huffington Post piece titled “Human Rights Abuses Arriving at Boston Logan, Courtesy of Qatar Airways.”
“The ‘luxury’ airline is owned by the State of Qatar, an oil-rich dictatorship in the Middle East on the border of Saudi Arabia, where migrant workers are dying by the thousands in deplorable working conditions akin to slavery,” he wrote.
A 2013 investigation by The Guardian titled “Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves,'” reported:
Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in Qatar in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.
This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.”
A follow-up piece, “Qatar commits to new welfare standards for World Cup workers,” reported on a commitment to reform but noted:
“Human rights groups have called for more fundamental reform of the kafala system that ties workers to their employer and forbids them from leaving the country without permission. It has led to situations that have been compared to modern day slavery, where unscrupulous middlemen charge large sums to find employment for workers in Qatar and other Gulf states but leave them working long days in unsafe and insanitary conditions – and, in some cases, without pay.”
A 2014 piece titled in the Swedish newspaper Expressen titled “The truth about the luxury of Qatar Airways” detailed one flight attendant’s experience.
“The chance to leave Qatar is used as leverage in a game of punishment, where six months of rejected exit visas is common punishment for a flight attendant who has done something wrong and issued a warning,” it reported.
A Qatar Airways news release posted on its web site does not address the matter but rather hails a new summer reading program it has launched in Atlanta. The release, titled “World’s Best Airline seeks to inspire a love for exploration through reading and travel,” reports on a partnership with the Atlanta public school system:
Yesterday, 500 students each received their first book for the summer, courtesy of Qatar Airways and the Atlanta Public Schools, to kick-start the ‘School’s Out, Reading Is In! program. Qatar Airways Cabin Crew and staff from the Americas office visited the Heritage Academy Elementary School to gift the books and share stories with the children on how important reading – and traveling – is to expanding personal horizons.The ‘School’s Out, Reading Is In!’ program inspires students to maintain their academic progress through the summer holiday by providing each student from K-5 grades with books, grade-appropriate. Qatar Airways is partnering with the Atlanta Public Schools to support this endeavor, and to further inspire students to explore the world through reading
“‘At Qatar Airways, we believe in the power of travel to expand our understanding of the world,’ said Qatar Airways’ Vice President of the Americas, Mr. Gunter Saurwein. ‘A love of reading is the first step in cultivating a life of exploration, and the Atlanta Public Schools program is a powerful contribution to these students’ development. When these students are older, we will be ready to make their dreams come true by flying them around the world, so they can experience the places they read about this summer.’”