Bonded for Flexibility: Migrant Workers in Qatar's Construction Industry and Beyond

Friday, February 12, 2016
12:00 - 1:30pm
352 Haines Hall

Presented by: Natasha Iskander, Associate Professor of Public Policy, NYU Wagner



About the Talk:

Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup, has been called out for its labor practices.  Human rights and labor organizations have condemned the treatment of migrant workers and have called the small gulf nation a modern slave state.  While Qatar has been singled out for its labor practices, forced labor arrangements, whether formally sanctioned or informally implemented, are widespread internationally and are profoundly compatible with modern capitalist production.  This paper draws on a qualitative examine of the construction industry in Qatar to examine the ways in which compulsion is used in global production systems to meet production challenges.  While critiques of the labor system in Qatar have emphasized working conditions and wages, this paper focuses instead on worker skill, an aspect of production that is often represented as a neutral input in the form of human capital. I argue that labor arrangements based on compulsion enable firms to erase the skill contribution of workers even as they rely on their skill to meet technical challenges and highly variable production targets.  This systemic skill erasure forecloses all negotiations between labor and management over how skill is used and compensated, thus preserving maximum production and price flexibility for firms.   The paper concludes with a call for a renewed exploration of the politics and power relations of production systems, and of the specific ways in which compulsion is deployed as a deliberate production strategy. 


About the Speaker:


Natasha Iskander, Associate Professor of Public Policy, conducts research on labor migration and  economic development, on labor mobilization and its relationship to workforce development, and on processes of institutional innovation and organizational learning. Her recent award-wining book, entitled Creative State: Forty Years of Migration and Development Policy in Morocco and Mexico (Cornell University Press: 2010), examines how the governments of Mexico and Morocco elaborated policies to build a link between labor emigration and local economic development. Her current project investigates how tacit skill moves across national borders through international migration, and the resource it represents for economic development. She has focused on Mexican migrants in the US and Mexican construction industries, and has now begun a project on processes of skill development among migrants in Qatar's construction industry. 


Additionally, Dr. Iskander examines the impact on rapid rural-to-urban migration on the provision of urban water and sanitation, and its relationship to climate change.  Natasha Iskander received her PhD in Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  She also holds a Masters in City Planning from MIT, and a BA in Cultural Studies from Stanford University. Prior to her doctoral studies, she worked for several years in non-profits in Egypt and the United States on issues of urban development, micro credit and community health planning. She has also worked as a community activist and migrant labor organizer.





This event is presented by the UCLA Center for the Study of International Migration; cosponsored with the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor & Employment