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(en) UK Solidarity Federation - DA #27 - Jordan's Sweatshops

From worker-a-infos-en@ainfos.ca (Flow System)
Date Sun, 22 Jun 2003 13:37:12 +0200 (CEST)
Rom Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

Sayed Adil Ali walks across the ground floor of the two story Silver
Planet textile mill outside the Jordanian capital, Amman. He points at
a multicoloured pile of clothes ready to be shipped to the US.
"Wal-Mart," he says, "it's shorts; boy's shorts, we export for
all the big US retailers: Target, Wal-Mart and JC Penny."
While the world has been focused on Iraq and the future of its vast oil
resources, US companies of a different kind have been rapidly
extending their influence throughout the Arab world. Under the terms
of its Free Trade Agreement with the United States, Iraq's
neighbour Jordan has seen a massive increase in clothing
manufacturing for the US market.

Three years ago, not a single textile mill in Jordan exported to the big
US retailers. Today, there are more than 40,000 workers toiling in more
than 60 factories, producing solely for the US market. Washington
inserted a provision into Jordanís 1994 peace agreement, with
Israel giving Jordan permission to export products duty free to the
United States, provided at least eight percent of their industrial inputs
come from Israel. These special factories are located in Jordanís
Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZs).

Jordan is a strategic tool for both the US and Israel, and yet,
Jordanians own almost none of the factories. Most are owned and
operated by entrepreneurs from China, Taiwan, Korea, India, Pakistan
or the Philippines, who import workers from overseas. Of the 40,000
workers employed in the Qualified Industrial Zones, fewer than half
are Jordanian. Ninety percent are women under the age of 22, and
almost all of them are paid the minimum wage, about $3.50 a day.

Factory owner Syed Adil Ali says his factory only contracts Sri
Lankan girls. "They are very peace minded girls," he says, "I found
some kind of problem with the boys. They made some kind of union,
some kind of disturbance in the factory. So we prefer the girls." There
is no union at Syedís factory, which makes more than $2 million a
year in profits. He is planning on adding a third floor to the factory and
employing hundreds more workers.

Zaid Marar, public relations official, drives his blue BMW around the
Al-Tajamout Qualified Industrial Zone. Thousands of foreign workers
live in the industrial park. He says the dormitories comply with the
minimum human rights standards permitted by US retail giants. "There
are 80 people per floor, ten rooms in each. There are eight people per
room and five and a half square feet of space for each according to JC
Pennyís specifications." Syed Adil Aliís work-force of 600 is
housed in one of these army-barracks style buildings. They are
required to live on the factory grounds far away from the city. Because
of their sixty five-hour work week, the workers rarely leave the
complex. The company provides for their basic needs - for most
workers, it supplies their only sources of food and drinking water.

In some cases, the workers have been unpaid for months at a time.
Factory owners work with agents in South and East Asia to locate
workers interested in coming to work in Jordan. They apply to the
Jordanian Ministry of Labour for visas, which restrict them to working
only for the factories that bring them. Then, they buy the worker a
one-way ticket to Amman. When the employer is finished with the
worker, he buys the worker a ticket home. When employees try to
start a union, as 120 Bangladeshis earlier this year, they are
summarily deported.

Jordanís Textile Trade Union has no problem with the current
situation. The unionís President, Falthalla Omrani flew to
Washington for the Free Trade Agreementís signing ceremony.
"You have to start somewhere," he says. "Jordan needs foreign
investment. We need factories." Overwhelmingly though, Jordanians
oppose both the Free Trade Agreement with the United States and the
peace treaty with Israel.

Before the Gulf War sanctions, Jordan ran a brisk $1.2 billion trade
with Iraq. Now, that trade has been cut by more than half, and the
official unemployment rate is 20 percent. In the Bacca Palestinian
refugee camp outside Amman, locally owned factories that used to
sell to Iraq are shuttered, their work-force laid off, their equipment for
sale. Navri Sarisi, president of a community centre at the Bacca
Camp, believes the United States is trying to set up a relationship
between Israel and Jordan similar to the one between the United
States and Mexico. The minimum wage in Israel is eight times the
minimum wage in Jordan. "The trade agreements came by force of the
United States," he says, "and the best example are these Qualified
Industrial Zones. The Israelis are investing money in very cheap
labour where people work long hours. They are getting free access to
the US market duty free and customs free."

Welcome to the global free market, where the rules and the orders
come from Washington, and if you donít like it or fit with their
plans, you are a terrorist and/or instantly unemployed.

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