More than 55,000 people have signed an online petition calling on FC Barcelona to cut ties with Qatar Airways as a sponsor.
Criticizing Qatar's treatment of female employees as well as citing the emirate's problematic kafala employment system, the petition calls for "the Barcelona Football Club to drop Qatar Airways as a sponsor until worker's conditions improve!"
Recently Qatar Airways has come under cricitism from the International Labor Organization and the International Transport Workers' Federation for its unfair treatment of female employees such as dismissal when they are found to be pregnant.
However, CEO Akbar Al Baker explained to Reuters last year that the pregnancy restrictions only apply to employees who have worked for less than three years, as local regulations do not allow pregnant flight attendants to fly and that there are only so many ground jobs available for employees. Baker went on to say that the terms of employment are clearly stated and that “mature” individuals who accept them shouldn’t complain.
As for kafala reform, last week Qatar's Shura Council signed-off on recommended reforms that wouldn't improve the system much, if at all, for foreign workers.
The campaign lists Abdeslam Ouaddou, a former Moroccan international defender who played football in Qatar, as the creator of the petition. Ouaddou originally moved to Qatar in 2010 to play with Lekhwiya, transferring to Qatar SC in 2011 with a two-year contract.
However, after a short time with Qatar SC, Ouaddou complained he had not been paid for six months and filed an official complaint with FIFA. He also said that he had been refused an exit permit and began to heavily criticize the emirate's sponsorship system.
"When you work in Qatar you belong to someone. You are not free. You are a slave. Of course it is not the same situation as the [construction] workers in Qatar, but there is a parallel. It is the same methodology. They can throw you away like old socks," he said, according to CNN.
Ouaddou won the complaint with FIFA last February. Other foreign football players in Qatar have also faced similar situations to that of Ouaddou, according to the same CNN article.
As for the FC Barcelona sponsorship, Qatar Airways has been a sponsor since 2013 following the Qatar Foundation's two year sponsorship. The $192 million deal was the first time in 111 years that the football club accepted payment to place the name of an organization on its jerseys.
Rumors of a renewed five-year agreement between Qatar Airways and FC Barcelona have circulated but have not been confirmed.