Migrant garment workers in Jordan; exploitation persists

From www.carniegeendowment.org |

Sabrina Toppa depicts the situation of migrant workers in Jordan, where the garment industry is growing but the labour conditions are still poor. Banglaseh, Sri Lanka and Nepal are the main providers of labour force.

Yet while the kingdom offers comparatively favorable labor laws for the region, many of these migrant workers are still legally and economically vulnerable (…). Garments manufactured in Jordan benefit from tariff-free entry to the U.S. market, a competitive trade advantage that makes Jordan an attractive destination for apparel manufacturing. However, despite Jordan’s high unemployment rate (officially reaching 15.8 percent in 2016, with estimates of up to 28 percent among youth) and a mandate to draw 30 percent of its workforce from the national population, the garment industry has struggled to attract Jordanian workers. From 2011 to 2013, for example, Jordan’s apparel industry sought more than 19,000 workers to meet production demands, yet only received slightly more than 4,000 applications, according to a study from the National Center for Human Resources Development. Given this gap, Jordan has relied on foreign labor to sustain its garment sector.

Jordan offers a better deal to migrant laborers than other international destinations. Part of the reason that the kingdom has been successful in luring garment manufacturers is its better labor standards (…). However, given the essentially precarious structure of migrant labor, protections on paper do not always translate into practical guarantees for many workers. Employer wage theft, forcible deportation, and unpaid overtime continue to persist as wider labor violations in factories, marring the kingdom’s reputation. Moreover, nearly half of all migrant workers complained of verbal abuse in the workplace, according to a 2013 Better Work Jordan report. In 2011, rape accusations roiled the Classic Fashion apparel factory in Jordan, leading U.S. retailers to cancel orders from the factory and potentially jeopardizing the country’s preferential trade status with the United States. Although factories submit to assessments by Better Work Jordan, a labor initiative under the partnership of the International Finance Corporation and International Labor Organization (ILO), labor abuses may continue unless retailers threaten to pull work orders. Migrants are particularly vulnerable when it comes to their legal work status. For example, although Jordan’s migrant workers are not formally bound to a sponsor as they are under the controversial sponsorship (kafala) system in Gulf countries, Jordanian migrants remain legally vulnerable if they modify or terminate their employment prior to a contract end date, since residency and work permits hinge on employment status. This gives employers excessive powers over the worker, including the ability to declare a worker “illegal” to a police station, which may subsequently nominate the worker for deportation.

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