Reports

September, 06 2008 |  Share

Human Trafficking and Abusive Conditions at the Mediterranean Garments Factory in the Ad Dulayl Industrial Zone in Jordan

 

The following information was directly provided by the foreign guest workers at the Mediterranean factory.

Update: Work Stoppage Ends at Mediterranean Factory in Jordan (September 10, 2008)

Update on the Crisis at the Mediterranean factory in Jordan (September 8, 2008)

There are approximately 1,400 guest workers at the Mediterranean factory—from Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India.  All of the guest workers are currently on strike  due to the abusive conditions and gross violations of their fundamental rights.  The workers sew clothing for Wal-Mart (White Stag label) and Hanes (Champion).

  • Human trafficking:  The guest workers estimate that 60 percent of the workers have been stripped of their passports, which have been confiscated by management.  Some workers have had their passports returned in preparation for expected audits by U.S. buyers.
  • Beatings, restriction of movement and threats of imprisonment and forcible deportation for workers who ask for their legal rights:  The women workers report that factory managers often curse, threaten, beat and slap the workers.  One factory manager the workers call Mr. Modhu recently slapped several young women, including Ms. Mahfuza, Ms. Sabina and Ms. Kiron, when they questioned the grueling and excessive overtime hours they were forced to work without pay.  When workers dare to challenge the abuses or ask for their legal wages, they are beaten or threatened with prison and forcible deportation.  Some 20 workers—informal leaders who have been outspoken in defending the legal rights of the workers—are currently being threatened with firing and forcible deportation.
  • The factory manager who workers refer to as Mr. Nath Raj has instituted a company policy of physically preventing women workers from going outside the industrial park.  The women are virtual prisoners, confined to the factory, dorms and industrial park.  The women workers cannot leave the industrial park to shop, visit friends—even during the important religious holiday, Eid—or seek medical care.
  • Hours—Grueling 99-hour Workweek: The routine shift at the Mediterranean factory is 16 to 16 ½ hours a day, from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. or 12:00 midnight.  In order to receive Friday off (their supposed weekly holiday), the workers are forced to toil a 19 ½ to 22 ½ hour, all-night shift every Thursday, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 or even 6:00 a.m. the following morning.  The workers say they are forced to punch their timecards out at 8:00 p.m. even though they will be kept working until 11:30 p.m. or midnight.

This work schedule puts the workers at the factory 99 hours a week!  Of course, this is all blatantly illegal.  Under Jordanian law, all overtime must be voluntary and cannot exceed 14 hours a week.  By law, workers must be paid a premium for all overtime work.  Instead of working 14 hours of overtime a week, the guest workers are routinely forced to toil 39 hours of overtime, and far from being paid an overtime premium—they are not paid at all!

Factory management unilaterally imposes wildly excessive mandatory production goals, which the assembly workers cannot possibly meet in the "normal" 10-hour shift.  (The legal shift should be eight hours.)  Management's policy is that the workers are prohibited from leaving the factory and must remain working—without pay—for several hours each day until they reach their goals.

For example, an assembly line of 49 sewing operators must complete a mandatory goal of 2,500 pairs of "White Stag" women's pants for Wal-Mart during the "normal" 10-hour shift.  This goal is impossible for the workers to meet.  They are allowed just 11.8 minutes to complete each pair of Wal-Mart pants, for which they are paid just eight cents!  (Many workers are earning just 41 cents an hour—well below the legal minimum wage of 75 cents, which itself comes nowhere close to meeting basic subsistence needs—after the illegal deduction for food.)

  • Workers are cheated of 50 percent of the wages due them!  The legal minimum wage in Jordan for the tens of thousands of foreign guest workers is 110 Jordanian Dinar per month, which amounts to 75 cents an hour and $35.85 for a 48-hour workweek.  (There is a higher minimum wage for Jordanian workers.)

As we have seen, the workers are routinely at the factory 99 hours a week, while toiling at least 87 hours.  For such an 87-hour week, the workers should have earned at least $72.12--$35.85 for the 48 regular hours and $36.27 for the 39 hours of overtime, which should be paid at a premium of at least 93 cents per hour.  However, the workers report that the maximum wage they receive per month, including all overtime, is just 140 JD a month, or $45.63 a week.  This means that the workers are being cheated of $26.49 each week, or 37 percent of the wages legally due them.  (They should have earned $72.12 and not the $45.63 they were paid.)

It gets even worse.  Management illegally deducts 30 Jordanian Dinar, or $42.37, per month from the workers wages to cover food costs.  When the foreign guest workers paid $2,000 to $3,000—or even $4,000 in some cases (an enormous amount of money for these poor workers and their families) to purchase their three year contract to work in Jordan, they were guaranteed free food and health care.  The guest workers at the Mediterranean plant receive neither.  By illegally deducting $9.78 from the workers' wages each week, management is reducing the workers' take-home wage to just $35.85, which means the workers are being cheated of $36.77—or 50 percent of the wages legally due them each week!

The strike was precipitated when management pressured and demanded that the workers take an even larger, and illegal, pay cut for food costs.

The workers also describe the food as terrible.  For breakfast the workers receive a piece of bread and lentils.  Lunch is lentils again, with either potatoes, eggplant or eggs.  Supper is lentils with mixed vegetables and rice.  The workers say the rice is of very poor quality and that the food often has a sickening smell.

The food is both so little and of such poor quality that to survive the workers have to use even more of their wages to purchase food, which they cook for themselves.

The Mediterranean guest workers also fail to receive their legal annual paid vacation leave, or in lieu of that, double overtime pay for the vacation days they work.

  • All 1,400 Guest Workers go out on Strike:  It is truly amazing that all 1,400 foreign guest workers at the Mediterranean factory—from Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India—who do not speak one another's languages—joined a work stoppage on August 31.  This speaks volumes for how bad conditions are at the Mediterranean factory.  When the workers showed up at the factory on August 31, they simply sat down and did nothing, refusing to work.  A work stoppage was on.  Management drove the workers from the factory and they then occupied a courtyard outside.  As of September 6, the work stoppage continues.  The workers say some of their colleagues have been beaten while others are being threatened with forcible deportation.  Apparently for several days management cut off food and water to the workers.

Under Jordanian law, management's ability to deduct money from the workers' wages is contingent upon the workers "voluntarily" agreeing to the wage cuts.  As no foreign guest worker, away from their family and at the factory 99 hours a week struggling to earn enough money to pay off the debts incurred when they purchased their contracts and to send money home would ever willingly agree to such a wage cut, management turns to threats and coercion to pressure the workers to sign over their approval.  Such illegal threat—of being fired, imprisoned, possibly beaten and then deported without their back wages—are going on in factories all across Jordan.

The workers at the Mediterranean factory have taken a stand against these illegal threats and pressure, and if they win their just struggle, it will have an impact on tens of thousands of foreign guest workers throughout Jordan.

 

 

    

UPDATE

Serious negotiations are underway at the Mediterranean plant in Jordan, with Ministry of Labor officials, factory management and Hanes representatives meeting with the workers.  Threats of retaliatory firings and deportations have ceased.

Management has cut the food deduction they are pressing the workers to accept from 25 JD ($49.43) to 15 JD ($35.31) per month.  The workers will not accept this.  They should not pay any deduction at all, given that the agreements they signed when they paid for and purchased their contracts to work in Jordan stipulated that food, medical care and housing would be free. 

As a sign of good faith, the workers may be willing to accept a $7.00 deduction per month.

The U.S. State Department's office to Combat Trafficking in Persons has played a very positive roll in similar cases, and their possible involvement with regard to the Mediterranean factory crisis may be helping drive the positive negotiations.  Hanesbrands involvement may also be key.

Updates will follow.

 

Write to the U.S. Trade Representative (September 5, 2008)