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Letter from Leading Members of the House Ways and Means Committee

September, 13 2006 Share

NEWS RELEASE
FROM REPRESENTATIVE CHARLES B. RANGEL
Ranking Democrat, Committee on Ways and Means


Democrats Seek Investigation Into Jordanian Sweatshops

Bush Administration must enforce commitments of US-Jordan FTA

Washington, D.C. - Leading Ways and Means Democrats sent the attached letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Rob Portman today outlining their concern over reports of oppressive sweatshops in Jordan.
Specifically, the National Labor Committee for Worker and Human Rights issued a report today detailing how workers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, India and Nepal are fraudulently coerced to work in factories in Jordan, where they are subjected to oppressive conditions including working 38-72 hour shifts, torture, and compensation at a level well below Jordan's minimum wage. The report also states that female workers were subject to sexual harassment and abuse — and that in one case, a young woman was raped by a factory manager and later committed suicide.
The Democrats raise these concerns with the Bush Administration because the allegations present serious questions about the commitment of the Government of Jordan to combat trafficking, as well as Jordan's compliance with the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The FTA requires that each party "shall not fail to effectively enforce its labor laws," and "shall strive to ensure that its laws provide for labor standards consistent with international labor rights."
In their letter, the Democrats request the Administration conduct an immediate investigation of labor conditions in Jordan and their compliance with Jordan's international obligations. They also request that the U.S. Government immediately consult with the Government of Jordan, offering its assistance to ensure the safety of the workers who courageously provided information to the National Labor Committee for its study, and to protect such workers from retaliation by their employers.

May 3, 2006
The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
The Honorable Rob Portman
U.S. Trade Representative
600 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20508
Dear Secretary Rice and Ambassador Portman:
We are writing to express our deep concern about allegations of the trafficking and severe mistreatment of foreign workers in textile and apparel factories in Jordan. As reported in a study released today by the National Labor Committee for Worker and Human Rights, workers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, India and Nepal often are fraudulently coerced into accepting contracts to work in factories in Jordan, where the workers are forced to work in oppressive conditions. The National Labor Committee found that foreign employees in such factories are forced to work 38-72 hour shifts, beaten and tortured, and paid well below Jordan's minimum wage. The report also states that female workers were subject to sexual harassment and abuse — and that in one case, a young woman was raped by a factory manager and later committed suicide.
The National Labor Committee's report states that the managers of several textile and apparel factories in Jordan confiscate the passports of their foreign employees, thereby preventing the workers from leaving the country. The practice of withholding of documents or otherwise preventing foreign workers from leaving a country is an issue that the U.S. Government has sharply criticized in its own reports on human trafficking. Further, it is an issue that we, and other Members of Congress, have raised in connection with free trade agreements that the United States has negotiated with Bahrain and Oman. It also is a practice that has been condemned by the ILO as a violation of migrant workers' fundamental labor rights.
The allegations regarding labor practices in textile and apparel factories in Jordan present serious questions about the commitment of the Government of Jordan to combat trafficking, as well as Jordan's compliance with the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The FTA requires that each party "shall not fail to effectively enforce its labor laws," and "shall strive to ensure that its laws provide for labor standards consistent with international labor rights." These provisions are enforceable through the agreement's dispute settlement procedures.
We request that the Administration urgently initiate an investigation of labor conditions in Jordan and their compliance with Jordan's international obligations. We also request that the U.S. Government immediately consult with the Government of Jordan and offer its assistance to ensure the safety of the workers who courageously provided information to the National Labor Committee for its study, and to protect such workers from retaliation by their employers.
We look forward to working with you to ensure that all trafficking of workers and violations of basic international worker rights in Jordan are eliminated.
Sincerely,

Hon. Charles B. Rangel
Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin
Hon. Sander M. Levin
Hon. Xavier Becerra