The plight of women workers suffering from sexual abuse and rape at Jordan’s largest garment factory, Classic Fashion Apparel, has been occurring for several years now. The Classic Fashion Apparel factory produces labels for Wal-Mart, Hanes, Kohl’s, Target, and Macy’s…with Wal-Mart being the largest producer at Classic. According to the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (IGLHR) there are over 4,000 foreign guest workers from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Egypt sewing garments at Classic for duty-free export to the U.S. The story of these women guest workers being sexually abused and raped over the years by their male managers, as well as suffering from physical punishment and deportation for refusing sexual advances, was first broken by Charles Kernaghan, Director of IGLHR, on June 9, 2011 as an alert titled ‘Sexual predators and serial rapists run wild at Wal-Mart supplier in Jordan’. The alert can be found at the following link: http://www.globallabourrights.org/alerts?id=0339
In a follow-up report by the The Sunday Leader titled ‘The Classic Factory Workers’ Nightmare’ the Institute stated that an alleged serial rapist of Sri Lankan nationality was inexplicably freed by Jordanian officials after being arrested on June 17, 2011 to face charges of rape and torture of a young woman guest worker at the Classic factory. The accused, Anil Santha, a general manager for the Classic Fashion Apparel Industry in Jordan, went right back to work at Classic to the devastation of workers according to IGLHR. Charles Kernaghan, Director of IGLHR, had the following to say about Sri Lankan authorities who he claims were fully aware of the situation at the Classic factories in Jordan, but chose to ignore them. “I think the Sri Lanka foreign employment bureau knows exactly what’s going on, and they have done nothing. This is a cover-up. Their main aim is to increase the flow of workers to foreign countries. They are willing to sacrifice young Sri Lankan women for the economy of Sri Lanka. These women are not in a position to fight back. If they testify, they will be beaten by Classic managers, and not only forcibly deported, but shamed. From what I understand, they believe that their lives are ruined, and their chances of having a successful marriage are next to zero,” said Kernaghan.
The IGLHR went on to explain that they learned of the abuse taking place at Classic ’s factories through the large network of factory workers in Jordan and that they have carried out three campaigns on Classic over the last few years. The sexual abuse charges came to light in December when the Institute was in Jordan and held a secret meeting with Classic factory workers. The women workers taped their testimonies using cell phones. IGLHR also claims that Jordan’s Ministry of Labour has been aware of the sexual abuse these women have suffered since as early as 2007, but has done nothing about it. The report can be found at the following link: http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2011/06/26/the-classic-factory-workers-nightmare/
The national press brought this to the attention of the general public when The Huffington Post published an article titled ‘Major American Brands Silent on Alleged Rights Abuses At Overseas Factories’ on July 21, 2011. The article begins, “A month after a prominent human rights group accused major American brands of purchasing clothing from a factory in Jordan that systematically abuses workers, the companies have yet to declare any public action.” In an interview with The Huffington Post, Charles Kernaghan criticized the American brands for a lack of action following the release of the Institute’s report. “When we first started with this I thought Walmart and Hanes, they are not into human rights,” he said. “But we thought they would draw the line in the sand at these rapes. Instead, they’ve been virtually silent.”
The Huffington Post reported that as American companies have expanded their reach around the globe, riding free trade agreements to tap low-wage countries for goods, Jordan has emerged as a key supplier. In 2001, the United States finalized a free trade agreement with Jordan, lifting tariffs on a range of goods, including apparel. Five years later, exports from Jordan to the United States peaked at $1.2 billion, according to U.S. Department of commerce data. After a dip caused by the global economic downturn, the country’s exports rebounded in 2010. Apparel exports alone reached $1.05 billion. But as trade has burgeoned, so has scrutiny into the conditions confronted by the people making the goods. Guest workers from poor countries employed in the Middle East — and particularly in Jordan — have in recent years been at the center of the debate over whether labor has been treated fairly. Non-governmental organizations, as well as the International Labour Organization, the United Nation’s worker advocacy agency, have in recent years investigated working conditions in Jordan. Macy’s, Target, Kohl’s, and Wal-Mart emailed statements to The Huffington Post regarding their standards in sourcing merchandise. The article mentions an independent workplace monitoring organization named Better Work Jordan which receives funding from the U.S. government. In March 2010, the Jordanian Cabinet agreed to gradually require all factories to submit to Better Work Jordan assessments. One year later, Better Work Jordan evaluated 24 of the estimated 80 factories operating Jordan, including Classic Brands. Of these, 63 percent were found to have coerced workers, 29 percent used bonded labor and 88 percent housed workers in conditions that were in some way deficient, according to the report. A detailed assessment of Classic Brands was made but not included in the online document. When the latest incident at the Classic Factory occurred and the general manager Anil Santha was arrested, it was soon after reported by the Wall Street Journal. The case against Santha is pending after he was released on bail. Of last note is that in the week of the publishing of the article, the US Trade Representative’s Office, which negotiates free trade agreements, said it was aware of the allegations in the Institute’s latest report and has referred the matter to the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues. A State Department spokeswoman said the department is in consultations with the Jordanian government over the issue. To read the full article on The Huffington Post click on the following link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/21/american-brands-abuses-factories-jordan-labor-conditions_n_903995.html?view=print&comm_ref=false