Nepali community leader Narendra Bahadur Bhat, coordinator of the Non-Resident Nepali Association in the Middle East, said that conditions in Qatar are comparable to those for workers elsewhere in the Gulf, that Nepali workers have legal protections in Qatar, and that efforts by Qatari and Nepalese authorities to improve their working conditions continue.
At the same time, he said, "We can't say that the work circumstances are ideal; we are facing challenges regarding salaries, issuing the residency and providing adequate accommodations."
Bodies sent back to Nepal 'every day'
Suresh Man Shrestha, secretary of the Ministry of Labor in Nepal, told CNN that the return of the bodies of migrant laborers to Nepal from overseas already is a daily occurrence.
"Every day, one to three bodies of Nepali migrant workers are sent back to Nepal," he said. "From July 2012 to July 2013, 726 bodies have returned, mostly from the Middle East."
Almost half a million Nepalis depart as migrant workers each year, mainly for Middle East and Malaysia, Shrestha said. He put the number of Nepalese workers in Qatar at 793,000.
Shrestha gave three reasons for the tragically high death toll among Nepali laborers, who quit the Himalayan kingdom on the promise of better paying jobs to help support their families.
First, workers die in accidents, he said. Laborers who have perhaps never seen a skyscraper before are made to work on extremely tall buildings.
Another factor is the heat, he said, with workers from the Himalayas unused to searing desert temperatures. Third, Shrestha highlighted the poor employment conditions that many migrant laborers suffer.
'Crucible of exploitation'
Qatar has faced repeated calls for reform since it was awarded the World Cup in late 2010.
Rights group Human Rights Watch said in February that Qatar "has not delivered on its pledges to improve migrant workers' rights."
The group said then that if the labor reforms promised when the wealthy Gulf nation won the 2022 World Cup did not materialize, the tournament "threatens to turn Qatar into a crucible of exploitation and misery for the workers who will build it."
On Friday, Burrow said the ITUC had been in discussions with FIFA, soccer's world governing body, and the Qataris about how to improve the situation but nothing has changed, highlighting the need for international pressure.
"We've never seen countries so quiet about what is in fact modern-day slavery. It has to end," she said. "There can be no World Cup in Qatar without labor rights. ... If they engage with us, we can help them fix it."
But Al-Thawadi insisted that labor abuses are not tolerated by Qataris and that things are changing.
"The issues that are being raised are not part of my culture," he said. "We unequivocally are outraged. We definitely do not accept these cultures happening within our society and we are taking action about it."
He said laws have been established and policies are being implemented, but "it's important to take things in perspective." Since 1995, he said, "there has been significant development that has occurred in the state of Qatar, probably the fastest developing nation on Earth," including a population boom.
"During this period of time with rapid construction, rapid urban development, rapid population growth, the country is still committed towards putting in place policies to address these situations," he said. "The issue is in terms of finding a system of enforcement to enforce these policies. The government has been taking actions towards it (but) this can't happen overnight."
Al-Thawadi said the government is seeking to ensure that it takes sustainable action, providing long-term, enforceable solutions rather than a quick fix.
Feeling the heat
FIFA said last week it would raise the issue of worker rights with Qatari authorities and would discuss the latest reports at the FIFA executive committee meeting that started Thursday in Zurich, Switzerland.
The world professional footballers association, FIFPro, has said that "Qatar must respect the rights of the key people who will deliver the 2022 FIFA World Cup: the workers who build the World Cup stadia and infrastructure and the professional footballers who play in them."
FIFA's top officials will also be considering a call for the Qatar tournament to be moved to the winter months because of fears that players and fans would be adversely affected by the searing heat, which can reach 122 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer.
Europe's football associations voted earlier this month against holding the tournament in the Qatari summer -- although FIFA will make the final decision.