At least five separate cases of construction workers' deaths in Qatar have been prosecuted in recent weeks, with Doha's criminal court handing down fines and ordering compensation payments.
In several of the cases, the workers fell from high scaffolding. The court convicted the responsible companies of manslaughter and negligence in the workers' deaths.
According to Doha News, human rights activists have expressed mild optimism at the convictions. However, it is unclear if these few cases signify a genuine shift in Qatar or whether the back-to-back court scheduling was merely coincidental.
The news comes on the heels of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, visiting the emirate, after which he said that reforms were being implemented.
"From what we have seen there is progress. We are convinced there is genuine will to tackle rights violations," Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein told reporters Thursday, according to Channel News Asia .
In light of Qatar's 2022 World Cup bid, the country has come under intense international scrutiny for its treatment of foreign workers. Particular attention has been focused on the country's kafala system, which is used in similar forms throughout Arab countries to govern foreign workers and their relationships to their employers.
In Qatar, the kafala system restricts foreign workers ability to travel and change jobs without approval from their employer. Laborers, mainly from economically poorer Asian countries, are often hired as construction workers or domestic laborers at very low wages.
Hussein also expressed an optimism about serious reforms to the country's kafala system. "Through the development of legislation... Qatar is working to replace kafala," he said.
Last year, Qatar began implementing changes to kafala with mixed reactions from rights group. Some suggested that the changes improved little and perhaps would make things worse for workers.
Construction companies operating on stadiums for the World Cup have reportedly been rigorously required to implement high standards to ensure the safety of their workers. Still, there is certainly a long way to go.