A LONDON university that claimed it has no control over a “slavery” scandal at its Qatar campus is under pressure to act from shadow international development minister Alison McGovern.
Ms McGovern expressed her alarm at working conditions at the site in a letter to University College London (UCL) published yesterday.
The front-bench Labour MP and former UCL student requested urgent face-to-face talks with UCL international vice-provost Dame Nicola Brewer.
Her intervention comes exactly a week after the Morning Star revealed “modern-day slavery” conditions at Qatar’s Education City.
An International TUC investigation found migrant workers at the campus had been charged huge recruitment fees, stripped of their passports, underpaid and forced to sign contract extensions.
ITUC lawyers called out UCL bosses for their “passive approach” to the consequences of Qatar’s kafala system.
UCL human resources director Nigel Waugh insisted the workers were not its responsibility as they were employed by subcontractors.
Ms McGovern rejected the excuse in her letter and TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady yesterday accused Mr Waugh of trying to “wash his hands” of rights violations.
Mr McGovern wrote: “These are practices which I’m sure you will agree are unacceptable in any workplace and which an institution such as UCL should be doing all it can to stamp out in any location that it is functioning, even if the individuals concerned are not direct employees of the college.”
The Labour MP explains how she has been campaigning with trade unions to scrap the kafala system.
Construction companies have abused the system to exploit workers brought in to build stadiums for the 2022 World Cup.
Ms McGovern added that “all British firms and organisations operating in Qatar need to look carefully at the way the workers they rely on are treated, and universities like UCL can be no exception to that.”
Lecturers’ union UCU leader Sally Hunt welcomed Ms McGovern’s stand.
“Our universities must ensure that people working on foreign campuses have access to the same rights as they would be afforded in the UK,” she said.
UCL said it had a track record of working with its partner locally the Qatar Foundation “to encourage better practice and achieve change.
“Ms Brewer and she will be holding meetings with senior QF staff in the autumn as part of our ongoing relationship, and we anticipate that the issues raised will form part of that dialogue.”