In 2022, Qatar will host the Fifa World Cup. The bid is part of the small, oil-rich state’s attempt to increase its global standing; it has also bought skyscrapers, art collections, and football teams. The World Cup is the most high profile move yet, and demonstrates an unprecedented opening up to foreigners.

Yet, as construction begins on the stadiums, the World Cup has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons, with the spotlight falling on the poor conditions suffered by the migrant labourers working on the buildings. On Sunday 17 November, Amnesty International released a report entitled “The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup.” Based on interviews with 210 workers (many of whom are from Nepal), employers, and government officials, the report concludes that some of the abuses amount to “forced labour”. It describes dangerous working conditions, squalid accommodation, and non-payment of wages. Some migrant workers were threatened with penalty fines, deportation, or loss of income if they didn't go to work – even though their wages were being withheld. The report also states that in 2012, more than 1000 people were admitted to the trauma unit at Doha’s main hospital after falling from height at work. Some of these people were left disabled; some died. An earlier investigation by the Guardian, in September, found that dozens of Nepalese workers had died – at a rate of nearly one a day during the summer.

On the launch of the report, Amnesty’s secretary general, Salil Shetty, highlighted the gaping inequality at play here: "It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world, that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive.”

Of course, forced labour in the Emirates is sadly nothing new. In 2011, there was a flurry of reports about the terrible conditions endured by migrant workers in Dubai. Many of these workers hail from India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. The stories are depressingly familiar: they are lured abroad by the promise of good pay, but on arrival, live in appalling conditions, have their passports confiscated, and are made to work for almost nothing, or have their wages withheld. Anti-slavery groups have pointed out that complex and arcane rules in the Gulf about entering and exiting the country makes exploitation of foreign workers particularly easy. Qatar operates under the “khalafa” system, where workers are reliant on employers who sponsor their visas.

Back in 2011, I spoke to returned migrant construction workers from Bangladesh. Some were on short visits home, some were staying for good. These were the lucky ones – they had access to their passports and the funds to make trips home – but they still spoke of dire working conditions. “We sometimes work for 18 hours,” one man told me. “I don’t mind during the winter months, but in the summer it’s very difficult and many men become unwell.” Another described sharing a cramped room with 10 other men, and said that he could not leave his job because he had incurred debt to travel to Dubai in the first place. Suicide rates are high – the Indian consulate in Dubai has said that around two Indian expats commit suicide every week.

Perhaps the most disturbing element of this new form of slavery is the extent to which it exists primarily to create luxury. Any visitor to Dubai will be overwhelmed by the opulence, the skyscrapers covering every inch of land, the impressive roads. Qatar similarly wants to impress the world with its stadiums come 2022: but at what cost to human dignity?