The Jordanian parliament has endorsed legislation to combat human trafficking in light of international complaints that local companies are sending foreign workers to Iraq against their will.
The law, endorsed on 25 January, paves the way for the creation of an anti-human trafficking commission to oversee its implementation. The commission will be affiliated to the Ministry of Labour and will include officials from the police and Ministry of Justice.
The authorities also plan to set up a shelter for victims of trafficking - to provide them with temporary accommodation before they are sent home. Violators of the law will be imprisoned for three years and tough measures will be taken against companies convicted of human trafficking, including permanent closure.
In 2008 a number of Amman-based companies were accused of using the country as a transit point to forcefully send Asian workers to Iraq.
The issue was highlighted in August 2008 when a lawsuit was filed in the USA by a Nepalese man, Buddi Prasad Gurung, and relatives of 12 of his colleagues, who were killed in Iraq. The men were hired to work "as kitchen staff in hotels and restaurants in Amman, Jordan, before their passports were confiscated and [they were] sent to Baghdad to work", according to a statement by the plaintiffs' lawyers.
Labour leaders said on 26 January that forced labour was also widespread in factories across Jordan. Fathallah Emrani, president of the Jordan Federation of Textile Industry Workers, said the law could contribute to improving working conditions for thousands of foreign workers, particularly in Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ), which have been subjected to various types of abuse.
"Here in Jordan many workers are subjected to slavery-like working conditions including beatings, prolonged working hours, work without payment or insufficient payment," Emrani told IRIN.
He said awareness campaigns should be launched to educate employers on how to deal with workers.
Jordan's QIZ, which produce items exclusively for the US market, employ tens of thousands of Asian workers, mainly from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India and China. Many are made to work up to 16 hours a day, and prevented from leaving the factory compound, even during holidays, said an activist who preferred anonymity.
In 2008, the government of the Philippines stopped sending domestic workers to Jordan, saying such a step would highlight the abuse - physical, psychological and sexual - they were subjected to by their Jordanian employers.
Labour Ministry records show that about 70,000 domestics work in the kingdom - 35,000 Sri Lankans, 20,000 Indonesians, Filipinos and others.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions