One rider died after road accident while “working for tips”
A group of 160 migrant workers in Qatar, scores of whom have been working exclusively for the food delivery service Talabat, have been subjected to wage theft, in some cases going unpaid for as long as 8 months, FairSquare has found. The parent company of Talabat is the German company Delivery Hero.
The men, mostly Ugandans, Ghanaians and Kenyans, are employed by two related companies, Infinity Delivery Services and Infinity Limousine Services and they carry out work on behalf of various food delivery companies, through subcontracting arrangements. Talabat has told FairSquare that at least 48 of their delivery riders in Qatar – more than one in five – were affected, although workers told FairSquare the figure was higher. Infinity denies any wrongdoing.
Two Ugandan Talabat drivers who filed labour complaints about their mistreatment in October were subsequently deported. A further seven men were arrested on 18 January and transferred to the deportation centre. Another Talabat rider died in hospital on 19 January after being involved in an accident. He was continuing to work because – after months of not being paid – the tips that he received from customers represented his only income.
FairSquare has called on Talabat and its parent company Delivery Hero to pay the men their unpaid salaries. Representatives of both companies have been responsive and have offered support to numerous delivery riders, but despite acknowledging failures in their due diligence processes they have to date refused to pay the men’s salaries, arguing that they have gone “above and beyond their responsibility and duty of care”. Under UN standards, businesses have a clear responsibility for workers abused by their suppliers, and recent years have seen increasing pressure on large companies to repay workers in their supply chain who have gone unpaid.
To FairSquare’s knowledge, Qatari authorities have yet to seriously investigate the men’s allegations of unpaid wages, and instead have deported several without due process, with at least one rider deported without a court hearing, legal representation, or an appeal.
“Talabat has failed in its duty of care towards these workers and it should remedy that situation immediately by paying the men what they’re owed,” said FairSquare co-director Nick McGeehan. “Instead it wants to pass the buck to a Qatari justice system that is seemingly devoting most of its efforts to deporting the men who have been abused rather than holding those responsible criminally accountable.”
A “distress message”
On 10 December, as the Qatar 2022 World Cup was reaching its culmination, FairSquare received an email from a Ugandan man in Qatar. “Consider this a distress message”, it said. “I’m a laborer in Qatar, everything as mentioned in the media is happening to me and a bunch of colleagues, our employer has suppressed all our efforts to claim our payment from him even when we tried the legal way.” The email added that the men’s employer had confiscated their passports and that those who complained had been deported.
FairSquare has spoken to six delivery drivers: four men in Qatar, one man who was deported from Qatar to Uganda in November 2022 and another man who was in Qatar when we spoke to him, but was deported to Uganda in early January 2023. They all said that they worked exclusively as delivery drivers for Talabat but were employed by a third-party, Infinity. Infinity employed 160 delivery riders in total, they said, approximately half of whom worked for or had worked for Talabat. According to their accounts, many Infinity employees have not been paid for periods of up to eight months, and those who have been paid during this period have had illegal deductions from their salaries for motorcycle repairs, driving licenses and accommodation costs. They said that Infinity evades detection for this wage theft by depositing money into bank accounts set up for the men, but denying them access to bank cards.
Investigations and deportations
On 16 December 2022 FairSquare wrote to Talabat’s parent company, Delivery Hero, outlining the abusive and illegal conduct of their labour supplier. Delivery Hero and Talabat launched an investigation and confirmed the central allegations. On 26 December 2023, Talabat informed FairSquare via email that they had communicated with the Ministry of Labour, which had subsequently “launched an official investigation on the concerned entity’s practice.”
Despite these investigations, Infinity has been able to continue to file “absconding” cases against their employees, which has led to the arrest and subsequent deportation of a number of men. The charge of “absconding”, a key part of Qatar’s kafala system, is routinely abused by employers who wish to punish workers for lodging complaints against them.
For example in early January, a Ugandan national Mr Hamadani Kabogooza, who had filed a labour complaint against Infinity in October 2022, was deported.
In the evening of 18 January 2023, FairSquare received information that police and other Ministry of Interior officers went to the Infinity employees’ accommodation and arrested four Ugandan nationals and three Kenyan nationals, and that the men were subsequently held in detention at the Search and Follow-up department deportation centre, before being deported. At least one of these men had filed a labour complaint against Infinity for unpaid wages, but despite this he was deported from Qatar on 24 January with apparently little investigation into his allegations or the substance of the claim that he had absconded from his employer. He told FairSquare:
“I can not tell the position of the gentleman who interviewed me though he sits in one of those court offices, he also had a translator to help him understand the English language. They knew I filed a case and even brought an official they claimed was from the ministry of labour. This one promised to call up our company and tell them to bring our [ATM bank] cards unfortunately that very night I was deported.”
Another Infinity employee informed us in January 2023 that Infinity was evicting him and five other colleagues from their accommodation, leaving them homeless and with no means of working legally in the country. He has since sought shelter in a refuge.
While Qatar’s laws were reformed in 2020 to theoretically allow migrant workers to change job without their employers’ permission, FairSquare learnt that Infinity has told its employees that they could not move jobs unless they agree to repay debts that have been imposed on them illegally. In an email to FairSquare, the company denied this.
Fatal road accident
On 14 January 2023, a delivery driver employed by Infinity was involved in a serious road traffic accident while driving for Talabat. He subsequently died on 19 January. One of his colleagues told FairSquare that he and other men were continuing to work as delivery drivers because – after months of unpaid salaries – the tips that they received from customers represented their only income.
“This distressing case that has affected so many people from just one company shows just how easy it is for employers to get around regulations on wage payment and proves yet again that Qatar’s kafala system is alive and well in practice. If Qatari employers who engage in this type of conduct can rely on the Qatari authorities to deport people who complain about abuse, and can escape prosecution themselves, that is evidence of critical problems with Qatar’s labour reforms.” said Nick McGeehan.
Company and government responses
Infinity told FairSquare in an email response on 27 January that they were “extremely surprised and astonished” at the allegations that they had not paid their workers. They did not provide any evidence to refute or seriously challenge any of FairSquare’s findings or complementary findings from Talabat’s own investigations. In relation to its filing of absconding charges, the company said that “the escape report is just a procedure by the company to protect itself from any legal liability that may fall upon it” and that “the judge is the one who decides whether the person is innocent or not”.
Talabat stated in a 20 January letter to FairSquare that “our teams have been working continuously to further look into these alleged wrongdoings by Infinity entities and took action closely liaising with all relevant stakeholders”. The company said its preliminary findings were that “48 out of 238 Infinity employees who fulfilled orders through talabat’s platform, were affected by their employer’s wrongdoings.” It also said that “besides delay of submitting rider salaries through the official Wage Protection System (WPS) which the mentioned companies were fined for by the authorities, we found very limited physical evidence of malpractices by Infinity entities.” However, in a separate communication the same day, Talabat told FairSquare that they had, “managed to find a physical evidence of infinity employee of Ugandan nationality labor case against infinity, which then was dropped because he was shown a fake airplane ticket and promised certain things.”
On 19 January, FairSquare wrote to the Qatari Ministry of Labour with details of the case, and asked them to conduct an immediate investigation into these abuses. At the timing of writing, no response had been received.
Updates on this case following its publication:
- See the 14 June 2023 detailed engagement by Tilman Massa of the Association of Ethical Shareholders Germany with the Management Board and Supervisory Board of Delivery Hero at the company’s Annual General meeting.
- See the 3 May 2023 account by Talabat rider Francis Nanseera detailing his experience of wage theft, arrest and deportation.