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UN Investigators to Probe Work Conditions in Qatar

In this photo taken during a government organized media tour, a foreign worker climbs scaffolding at the Al-Wakra Stadium that is under construction for the 2022 World Cup, in Doha, Qatar, May 4, 2015.

The International Labor Organization will send a delegation to investigate working conditions in Qatar following complaints that the wealthy nation is engaged in systematic rights abuses and human trafficking, a trade union leader said Thursday.

Representatives of the ILO are expected to visit the Gulf state early in 2016 to produce a report ahead of a meeting of the ILO's governing body in March, said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

ILO and Qatari officials are negotiating to coordinate the high-level visit involving international representatives of workers, employers and governments, Burrow told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Depending on its findings, the ILO could move to impose sanctions on Qatar regarding its treatment of 1.7 million migrant workers, Burrow said.

The oil-rich nation has plans to spend $200 billion on infrastructure related to its hosting of the 2022 World Cup and has imported hundreds of thousands of construction workers for ambitious building projects.

It is unclear whether U.N. member states would back a move toward sanctions by the ILO, the U.N.'s agency that deals with labor issues.

The ILO voted to launch its investigation earlier this week.

"Despite attempts by Qatari authorities to bully governments and employees to oppose this [investigation], they failed," Burrow said.

Qatar announced long-awaited but modest labor reforms last month following international criticism of its record on workers' rights by such groups as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Walk Free Foundation.

Foreign workers employed in Qatar, making up nearly 90 percent of the population, are prohibited from forming unions. They need permission from their employer or the state to leave the country.

The reforms give them the ability to appeal to a government committee if their employer will not sanction their exit.

Qatar's embassy in the United States and its Council of Ministers, a government body, did not respond to requests for comment.

"The government of Qatar is working hard with employers and workers to ... provide the best to the guest workers who contribute to the construction of the state of Qatar," Abdullah bin Saleh Al Khulaifi, the country's labor and social affairs minister, said earlier this week in comments carried by state media.

Qatar has hired additional labor inspectors to make sure companies are protecting the rights of workers, Al Khulaifi said.