This case will not go away until the rapists are behind bars'

LAKBIMA NEWS |  By Namini Wijedasa | July, 06 2011 |  Share  | Source Article

Two Sri Lankan managers who allegedly raped Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers at a garment factory in Jordan were evicted by the Jordanian labour ministry following sustained pressure from rights groups. 

But activists are disturbed about what they claim is a "lack of interest" by Sri Lankan authorities in pursuing the allegations of sexual abuse at Classic Fashion. 9-1
Chairman of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment Kingsley Ranawaka could not be contacted yesterday while General Manager H. Batagoda said he was in a meeting and referred this newspaper to the chairman. Attempts to contact Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare Dilan Perera yesterday failed.   

The US government is now "deeply involved" in the case while the Jordan's National Centre for Human Rights is also investigating, Charles Kernaghan, director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (IGLHR), told LAKBIMAnEWS. 

Kernaghan said IGLHR will retain a Jordanian lawyer to represent "Nazma", a Bangladeshi woman raped several times by one of the managers. They will separately consult a US attorney regarding the possibility of "Nazma" suing this manager as well as the owner of Classic Fashion and two US companies that buy garments. The names of the suspect managers are withheld from this article. 

Wal-Mart and Hanes are two retail giants that Indian-owned Classic Fashion sells garments to. Both use a US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement that allows clothes made in Jordan to enter the US duty free. According to an IGLHR report, this saves the retailers "a lot of money" since average tariffs can ordinarily reach 16.7 percent. 

IGLHR, the main non-governmental organisation pursuing the case, has also been advised that Jordan's Family Protection Department could pursue cases of sexual abuse without revealing the names of rape victims. Kernaghan said that if this were true several other rape victims may come forward. "But it will take time to re-establish trust that Anil can no longer hurt them," he warned. 

High level political supporters

"Has the Sri Lankan media been able to trace [one of the manager's] long, 19-year history as a serial rapist, starting in garment factories in Tanzania and Dubai?" Kernaghan asked, observing that he was "apparently kicked out of both countries". He also wondered whether reports that the manager had "high level political supporters" in the Sri Lankan government were true. 

The US State Department, Labour Department, US Trade Representative's Office and the US Embassy in Jordan are among the agencies taking weekly conference calls to discuss the case. "We also know that the Jordanian prime minister and cabinet are well aware of the allegations against [the manager] Classic and are taking this case very seriously," Kernaghan said. 

One of the suspect managers was arrested on June 18 by Jordanian authorities after hearing the testimony of a young Bangaldeshi woman who submitted to a medical examination. But he was released on bail two days later. Both managers then ignored a Jordanian labour ministry directive to return to work at Classic from June 21-23. 

"[The manager's] return to the Classic was a huge blow, as several Sri Lankan women were feeling more confident about their safety and the possibility that they would be able to remain anonymous while providing testimony to Jordanian authorities," Kernaghan told this newspaper. "Once Anil was seen back in the factory, the women guest workers were more terrified than ever."

With strong encouragement from activists, the labour ministry removed the managers. They were not seen at the factory since June 23. 

Win compensation

Kernaghan, who authored an IGLHR report titled, ‘Sexual Predators and Serial Rapists Run Wild at Wal-Mart Supplier in Jordan', said they believed one of the suspects had raped many women over the years. He says some of them were fired and deported to Sri Lanka when they became pregnant. "Other victims were similarly deported in order to control and terrorize them and the other workers," he claimed. 

He urged any women who were raped and who had returned to Sri Lanka to come forward to anonymously tell their stories. They could be part of a joint effort to win compensation, he said. 

"To date, tens of thousands of people have reviewed the rape victims' testimonies available on the Institute's website," he pointed out. "If anything, the momentum is building in this case of rape and abuse of guest workers at the Classic factory in Jordan.  This case will not go away until the rapists are behind bars."


Profile of Classic Fashion Apparel Industry

As revealed in a report by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, the factory is owned by an Indian businessman. There are five separate Classic factories in the Al Hassan Industrial Estate. Labels produced at the Classic Group of Factories are Danskin Now (Wal-Mart), Champion (Hanes for Target), Style & Co (Macy's), and Sonoma (Kohl's).Wal-Mart accounts for the largest proportion of production at Classic.
Classic opened its first garment factory in Jordan in 2003, with a workforce of just 300 guest workers and $2 million in sales for the year. Over the next seven years, Classic grew at an almost impossible pace. By the end of 2010, Classic's workforce had surged to over 4,800. It is a sixteen fold increase from the 300 workers in 2003 and the vast majority of them poor women guest workers from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India. During the same period, from 2003 to 2010, Classic's sales grew by 60 fold, from $2 million in 2003 to $120 million at the end of 2010. 

Today, Classic Fashion is the largest garment exporter in Jordan, producing over 100,000 garments a day and accounting for over 15 percent of total exports even in 2009. Eighty-five percent of Classic's employees are guest workers.

The guest workers are from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, China, Nepal and Egypt. They earn less than three-quarters the wage of Jordanian garment workers, who account for only 15 to 25 percent of the total garment workforce. Jordanians earn $1.02 an hour while the foreign guest workers take home 74 1/2 cents an hour. The Jordanians work eight hours a day, while the guest workers toil an average of 12 hours a day.