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Bangladeshi Workers Repressed in Jordan, Government Unaware: International Rights Group Reports Rape of Women Workers

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Bangladeshi Workers Repressed in Jordan, Government Unaware: International Rights Group Reports Rape of Women Workers

May 5, 2006

Kazi Azizul Islam

Thousands of Bangladeshi workers have been forced into virtual slavery at some readymade garment factories in Jordan, a recent investigation by an international labour rights group has revealed.(The New Age BD)

The workers are routinely deprived of their wages and tortured, if they ask for proper meal, while those who dare speak out against such malpractices are often deported without any payment.

There have also been incidents of rape of women workers by musclemen, hired by owners of these factories, according to the investigation by the New York-based National Labour Committee.

The 168-page investigation report was released in New York on Thursday and posted on the committee's website.

The expatriates welfare and overseas employment, and foreign ministries of the Bangladesh government are, however, not aware of the report.

'I have no such information about the matter,' the state minister for expatriates welfare and overseas employment, Mohammad Quamrul Islam, told New Age. 'We had some problems there [in Jordan] but those had been resolved.'

The report says most of the Bangladeshi workers are stripped off their passports by their employers as soon as they land in Jordan.

The workers are compelled to work up to 109 hours a week and paid two cents per hour although the rules require a minimum wage of 50 cents per hour.

The report also points out that most of the workers had to pay manpower agents between $1,000 and $3,000 for their passage to and employment in Jordan.

The committee claims to have conducted investigations at several factories in Jordan, and also interviewed Bangladeshi workers in Amman and the ones deported in Dhaka.

'I was sent to jail twice for demanding my salary" the jail authorities did not give me any food during the three days and four nights there" I drank water from a tap in the toilet,' Tuhin, a Bangladeshi worker, is quoted in the report as telling an NLC investigator.

Nasir, another worker, is quoted as saying Bangladeshis are punished if they ask for proper meal. 'The guards used to beat us up with broomsticks and sometimes forced us to stand naked in an air-conditioned room in severe cold.'

'I asked for some medicine when I had sprained my toe. They refused to give it and thrashed my toes with a broomstick,' Shahar Ali is quoted as saying.

Bangladeshis at one Jordanian factory told NLC investigators that they had to pay between Tk 90,000 and Tk 200,000 to Golden View International, a Dhaka-based manpower recruitment agency, for their jobs.

They said the agency had guaranteed a monthly salary of at least $120, excluding overtime, plus food, lodging and healthcare.

But on arrival, 115 Bangladeshis were stripped of their passports but given no identification cards, making difficult their movement outside the factories or dorms of the Al Shahaed Apparel in Irbid.

In February 2005, a young Bangladeshi woman hung herself in a bathroom using her scarf, after-allegedly-being raped by the factory manager, the report says.

The body, however, was not returned immediately to Bangladesh. It was kept at a morgue for several months. 'To date, we know of no official investigation into her rape and death,' the committee claimed in the report.

'Not a single factory worker in our ten-month investigation across Jordan said that they received any help whatsoever from Jordanian Ministry of Labor officials, from the local unions, or even from their own Bangladesh Embassy,' it also claimed.

ATM Atiqur Rahman, director general of the ministry in Dhaka, said they have no information on repressions on Bangladeshis.

'The embassy has not informed anything on it,' he said. 'Maybe, by next week, we will be informed.'

Jordan's apparel industry grew especially after 2000, helped by trade privileges from the United States given it for 1994 peace accord with Israel followed by a bilateral free-trade area agreement with Washington in 2001.

Exports to the US swelled by 2,000 per cent between 2000 and 2005 to $1.2 billion and the booming industry imported manpower from aboard.

Some 102 Jordanian units employ more than 25,000 foreigners, mostly Bangladeshis, the committee has found out.