Alerts

C. Are Corporate Audits Designed to Fail? Classic Workers Respond To Better Work Jordan's Monitoring Report of October 25, 2010

November, 10 2010 Share

 

Campaign: Classic Fashion in Jordan: Sweatshop Conditions, Workers press for change

 

We are in direct contact with one of the largest brands producing clothing at the Classic Factory in Jordan. When this company was informed of our report documenting sweatshop conditions at Classic, their head of compliance immediately contacted us. Within days their team of compliance auditors was on the ground in Jordan to begin monitoring audits of each Classic Factory. So far so good. There was a stream of emails and phone calls between the brand's head of compliance and us. Again-as stated earlier-we have no reason to doubt the good intension and decency of the corporate auditors. In fact, personally we like them.

The problem is that the auditors are walking into the same trap the workers are in.

On Wednesday, October 27, 2010, the brand's monitors entered Classic Unit 4 around 11:00 am. The workers imagined the two women auditors were from the United States. The auditors were accompanied by several Classic managers, including production manager, Mr. Sorminda. The monitors asked a Bangladeshi sewing operator if she had her akama (work permit) and passport. They spoke with several workers and after a half hour or so went on to inspect Classic Unit 1 and 2.

That same morning Classic management warned the workers to watch what they say to the monitors. Everyone knew what was going on and what they had to do. The workers said they were being "pressured and intimidated to speak in favor of management."

Just a day after the monitors' visit, on Thursday, October 28, workers at Classic Units 1, 2, 4, and 6 were forced to work an all night shift. In Classic Unit 4, 50 percent of workers- two sewing lines, cutting and finishing-worked an all night shift making jackets for the very same U.S. company that had audited the factory the day before.  All overtime is strictly mandatory. At Classic Unit 1, one sewing line worked the all night shift, as did another line in Classic Unit 2, and two lines in Classic Unit 6. Moreover, Classic Unit 3 and 5 were forced to work on Friday, October 29, despite the fact that Friday is the workers' legal weekly holiday.

The Classic workers asked us: "Why didn't the buyers come at night to see how the work is going on? And why didn't they visit on Friday to see how many of the Classic factories were working in full swing?"

It sounds impossible, but some workers said that Classic factory managers actually helped translate some of the interviews the auditors had with the workers.

Mr. Sanal, Classic's owner, told the buyers that all night shifts are sometimes necessary if clothing shipments are to leave on time. But workers report that all night shifts are routine year round and not linked just to shipping dates.

Some workers reported that 20 Sri Lankan workers were deported the week of October 25, 2010, along with 15 Indian workers. It appears that some guest workers have fled Classic Factory to escape the abusive and harsh conditions.

The auditors are certainly not bad people, but we need to sit down together to explore a new model to better audit factory conditions.

 

It is an open secret that corporate monitoring does not work.  Mr. John Ruggie, the special representative to the United Nations Secretary General for human rights and transnational corporations told Women's Wear Daily (June 4, 2009) that, "Just about everybody, at least off the record, will tell you that monitoring doesn't work and auditing of supplier factories doesn't work, because people cheat." (Women's Wear Daily article)

 


Indian Workers Denounce Violations at Classic Fashion

Original Letter in Hindi

 

Classic Fashion Apparel Industry
Al Hassan Industrial Estate
P. O. Box: 54
Ramtha, Irbid
Jordan

 

To,
Respectable Sir

Subject: Request for helping us resolve our problems

Problems:

1.      We are not provided good food.

2.      Every month JD (Jordanian Dinars) 20/- are deducted from our salaries for food.

3.      We have to spend JD 20/- on food separately on our own.

4.      Money is deducted from our salary for medicines.

5.      We are not paid for overtime regularly.

6.      We are not cared for as promised in the contract.

7.      We are paid less for more work, without being paid for overtime.

8.      We are not allowed Jordanian Government holidays.

9.      We are forced to work under coercion.

 

We are Indian migrant laborers. Therefore, please help us resolve our problems as stated above. This is our humble request to you.

 

Thanking you,
Classic Fashion Apparels Industry - 3
All Workers Group
India

 

 

 

Nepalese Workers Denounce Violations at Classic Fashion

Original Letter in Nepalese

 

Subject:  Addressing Laborers' Problems

1)      We are not getting good food.  That's why we get sick.

2)      The cost of food should not be deducted from our salary.  Food should be provided at no cost.

3)      We need to purchase food that costs us 20 Jordan currency.

4)      The company should bear all our health care costs when we get sick.

5)      The company should pay us when we work overtime.

6)      (Not legible)

7)      The company cannot force laborers to stay at work.

8)      The company should provide transportation facilities to the laborers.

9)      The company's manager and supervisor cannot scold the laborers.

10)  (Not legible)

11)  The laborers should get government holidays

12)  The company should abide by the contractual agreements signed with our manpower company.  We should be paid 10500 for eight hours of work.

13)  (Not legible)

 

 


Sri Lankan Workers Denounce Violations at Classic Fashion

Original Letter in Sinhalese

 


Classic Fashion Group of Companies
Jordan
02.08.2010

 

Dear Sir

Our company has not made arrangements for workers who have finished their contract period to return home afterwards. After cancellation, 4  Bangladeshi workers , worked for more than two months, and had stayed in the hostel for about seven days,  went to the airport for three days and then came back. If the manager in charge of this division did his job properly, would the workers face unfairness like this? Two workers who came to this organization and worked for about a month, were sent to the hostel, and then asked to go home back to Sri Lanka at their own expense, by Mr Anil.

We hope your attention will be drawn towards these unfair deeds. We ask that you keep this information confidential and protect our identities. Otherwise we fear we may have to suffer under Mr Anil's cruel attacks. As the entire work force fears his torments, nobody is willing to come forwards and talk about these events openly.

Yours Sincerely

Worker Group

 

 

 

Classic Workers Respond
To Better Work Jordan's Monitoring Report of October 25, 2010

 

 

Better Work Jordan issued its monitoring report one week after the Institute for Global Labour & Human Rights (formerly the National Labor Committee) released its preliminary report, "Systematic and Gross Violations of Human and Worker Rights Continue under the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement; Classic Fashion Apparel Industry Ltd. Co." on October 18, 2010.  Better Work Jordan is funded by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFO). Better Work Jordan has been monitoring Classic Fashion for the last 16 months.

Classic workers say the Better Work Jordan report has little credibility.

Below are some initial responses of the Classic workers.  More will follow.

 

 

1.)    Mandatory, Excessive Overtime Hours:

Workers report that auditors for Better Work Jordan are being misled by Classic management's use of doctored "official pay stubs," which never record more than four hours of overtime a day.  In reality, workers report being routinely forced to toil 80 to 100 hours a week, including some 24-hour shifts.  For example, on Thursday, November 4, 2010 five lines in Classic Unit 2 were forced to work an all-night shift.  And at least five lines were reported to be working on Friday, November 5-which is supposed to be the workers' legal weekly day off.  The workers at Unit 2 are all women from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India.

 

2.)    Workers Strike over Grueling Overtime:

Better Work Jordan reports that no Classic workers have complained about excessive overtime or being shortchanged of their legal wages.  This is very odd, as workers continually confront their supervisors regarding the excessive hours and being shortchanged of their overtime wages.  Supervisors strongly discourage the workers from contacting higher level management at Classic to air their grievances.  A group of Sri Lankan workers were so exhausted by the grueling hours that they went out on strike for three days-October 9, 10 and 11, 2010!

 

3.)    Classic Workers Routinely Shortchanged of Legal Wages:

The "official pay stubs" record "just" four overtime hours per shift.  Workers are not paid properly for the time they are forced to work off the clock.  Management also sets wildly excessive production goals, requiring workers to remain until they reach the target.  Again, no one is paid for these extra hours.

 

4.)    Better Work Jordan's "Performance Improvement Consultative Committees" (PICCs):

It was very difficult to locate workers who had heard of the Better Work Jordan's Performance Improvement Consultative Committees, which supposedly bring management and workers together to foster dialogue to improve factory conditions.  The few workers who had heard of the PICCs said that was over a year ago, but nothing has happened since. The workers consider the PICCs a "complete farce."  According to the workers, as the Performance Improvement Consultative Committees do not function in any public way, talking about the practice of regular meetings is ridiculous.  We could not locate any workers who had heard of, let alone participated in training sessions to better negotiate with management.

 

5.)    Confiscation of Workers' Passports

Guest workers report that many workers' passports are confiscated by management for periods of four to six months and sometimes longer, while they are provided no good explanation by management. The workers feel the renewal of their akamas and ID cards has become a pretext to control them by confiscating their passports. There are some workers' passports that have been held for more than 8 to 9 months.

 

6.)    Some Improvement Since the Institute's Report

Workers report that physical abuse-slapping, hitting, punching-have stopped following the release of our report. Workers still face humiliation and verbal abuse. Factory food has also improved. The quantity has improved and the food is well cooked. This is the one bright spot.

 

7.)    Women workers at Classic Unit 2 Have No Freedom of Movement

The women workers at Classic Unit 2 are still locked in their dorm compounds and denied the right of freedom of movement, even on their weekly day off. At other Classic dorm units, workers are now being allowed greater freedom of movement.

 

8.)    Classic Workers Want a Union

Foreign guest workers told us: "We want a free and fair union, one that gives workers a platform to express their concerns and resolve problems. Representatives of the union must be elected by the workers." If these conditions were met, tens of thousands of foreign guest workers in Jordan would be more than anxious to form such a union.

 


While Better Work Jordan can find No Hour or Wage Violations at Classic--

  •  "...Better Work Jordan has not received complaints that overtime hours have been recorded inaccurately."
  •  "...work weeks exceeding 80 hours have not been found, nor has evidence been found of 24-hour shifts."
  •  "...Better Work Jordan's assessments of Classic Enterprises have found no evidence of systematic non-payment of overtime stipulated by Jordanian law... Worker interviews have supported this finding."

 

 Guest Workers Beg for Help


Sri Lankan workers seek solidarity to end gross violations:

"We ask that you keep this information confidential and protect our identities.  Otherwise we fear we may have to suffer under Mr. Anil's cruel attacks.  As the entire workforce fears his torments, nobody is willing to come forward and talk about these events openly."

 

Indian workers at Classic:

- "We are not paid for overtime regularly"

- "We are paid less for more work, without being paid for overtime."

- "We are forced to work under coercion."

 

Nepalese Workers at Classic

- "The company should pay us [in full] when we work overtime."

- "The company cannot force laborers to stay at work..."

 

 

 

Better Work Jordan will produce little if any worker rights improvements

There is no reason to doubt that the Better Work Jordan project is well-intentioned.  But there is also no hope of Better Work Jordan significantly improving internationally recognized labor rights standards for the tens of thousands of foreign guest workers sewing garments for major U.S. apparel companies and retailers.

Better Work Jordan sees its role as being an independent arbitrator and facilitator, bringing management and workers together in a dialogue to improve working conditions.  Better Work Jordan will also carry out minor trainings.

The problem is that the two sides are not even remotely equal.  On one hand the foreign guest workers are powerless, often stripped of their passports, unable to speak Arabic, prohibited from joining a union, forced to work grueling hours, often seven days a week, shortchanged on their wages and housed in primitive conditions.  On the other hand, the wealthy factory owners have enormous power.  Under Jordanian law there are no limits on overtime hours.  And, as noted, guest workers are prohibited from organizing.  Management is free to arbitrarily set wildly excessive mandatory production goals and to force workers to remain, unpaid until the goal is met.  "Troublemakers" will be dealt with harshly-including a stay in prison before being forcibly deported.  This is what the Sri Lankan workers said of the abuses they suffer at Classic: 

"We hope your attention will be drawn toward these unfair deeds.  We ask that you keep this information confidential and protect our identities.  Otherwise we fear we may have to suffer under Mr. Anil's cruel attacks.  As the entire workforce fears his torments, nobody is willing to come forward and talk about these events openly."

The Jordanian Ministry of Labor plays a very minor role in the protection and enforcement of the labor rights standards they committed to under the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement. The fact that the Ministry of Labor awarded the Classic Apparel company "Golden List" status, identifying Classic as a "model factory" speaks volumes on how distant and indifferent Ministry of Labor officials are to the plight of thousands of guest workers forced to endure harsh sweatshop conditions at Classic.

Returning to the role Better Work Jordan plays, it might be helpful to consider an analogy.  One could liken the guest workers to a children's "pee wee" league football team, while Classic's owner and managers would represent the New York Giants football team.  Into this wild mismatch in power walks Better Works Jordan, operating as an impartial arbitrator between the "pee wee" team and the New York Giants.  Under such circumstances, the NY Giants will crush the pee wee team every time.

The only hope for change lies with the U.S. Government.  Under the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement, both governments committed to enforcing internationally recognized worker rights standards.  The U.S. Government has the power and tools to enforce the worker rights commitments we entered into with the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement-which was supposed to be the best free trade agreement ever negotiated in terms of protections for internationally recognized worker rights, which were written into the core of the agreement.  Yet, almost nine years into the U.S.-Jordan FTA-the guest workers in Jordan continue to toil under harsh sweatshop conditions while producing garments which enter the U.S. duty free.

Nearly nine years into the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement, worker rights provisions in the treaty are still being grossly violated.  It is critical that we take immediate steps to fix the U.S.-Jordan FTA before entering into other free trade agreements that could result in similar weak enforcement of labor rights standards.