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Report notes regular abuse of workers in Qualified Industrial Zones

An official team mandated with investigating working conditions in Jordan’s Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZs) reported that the abuse of employees was rife, labour ministry officials said on Tuesday.

“Foreign workers are abused regularly in a number of factories producing textiles for American companies,” said one member of the team, requesting anonymity. “Some are beaten, others are sexually harassed, and they’re rarely paid on time.” He added that employees were regularly subject to “extremely harsh conditions” and that they were “forced to work very long hours with little financial compensation, if any”.

The investigation was launched following the publication of a report by US-based rights group National Labour Committee (NLC) earlier this month, which pointed to substandard working conditions in more than 25 of Jordan's approximately 100 clothing factories in qualified zones.

The report noted that working hours in the zones were often extended to 109 hours a week, including 20-hour shifts, although, in some cases, workers received no wages for six months. The NLC report also pointed to instances of physical abuse. “Workers were slapped, kicked, punched and hit with sticks and belts, and any worker asking for their wages can be imprisoned,” the report noted. There have also been cases where young women working at the factory, some as young as 16 years old, have been raped.

According to industry sources, the government is keen to avoid the wrath of Washington, with which it has enjoyed a free trade agreement since 2000. The agreement, the first ever with an Arab state, requires that labour rights in Jordan are enforced, and can be subject to review if the government fails to do so.

President of the General Trade Union of Workers in Textile Industries Fathallah Emrani blamed the government for repeated abuses. “The government must conduct regular inspections to prevent such practices,” he said. “Not only after a report from a foreign organisation is published.”

The QIZ agreement, concluded by the US, Jordan and Israel in 1997, designated certain industrial zones in the kingdom, in which final products produced may enter the US market duty- and quota-free. The scheme was originally established to bolster economic relations between Jordan and Israel after the signing of a joint peace treaty in 1994. It is estimated that some 44,000 workers are currently employed in QIZs, roughly half of whom are from Sri Lanka, China or other Asian nations.

Some of the biggest international clothing brands now use Jordanian-made clothing, including Gloria Vanderbilt, Kohl's, Wal-Mart and Target.

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