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August, 05 2011 |  Download PDF |  Share

Power, Money and Corruption in Jordan: The Case of the Classic Fashions Sweatshop

At 11:30 p.m. the evening of Thursday, August 4, the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights' director for Bangladesh and the Middle East, Rafiq Alam, was detained by Jordanian police and taken to the Family Protection Department for questioning.  Mr. Alam is an internationally recognized and highly respected human, labor and women's rights advocate.  Mr. Alam is scheduled to speak to over 4000 delegates at the international convention of the United Steelworkers union in Las Vegas on Saturday, August 13, where he will be joined by labor rights advocates from over 40 countries who are also participating in the convention.  However, Mr. Alam's passport has been confiscated and he has been ordered to appear before a Jordanian prosecutor on Sunday, August 7 at 9:00 a.m.

Meanwhile, the accused serial rapist, Anil Santha--general manager of Classic and close friend of the company's owner, Sanal Kumar--has returned to the Classic sweatshop.  Despite guarantees from the Jordanian Ministry of Labor that Anil Santha would not be allowed to return to the Classic factory or have any contact whatsoever with the workers, Anil Santha was indeed back in his office and was seen patrolling the shop floor at Classic on Tuesday and Wednesday, August 2 and 3.  Anil's return has further terrorized the already desperately frightened young women guest workers.

Anil brutally raped a young Bangladeshi woman, "Nazma", in March and again in May, when he raped her twice, biting and gnawing her shoulder for at least 10 minutes, which left a huge bruise even a month after her assault.

(We wonder if the Ministry of Labor is aware that on Thursday, August 4, three production lines at Classic Factory #2 were forced to work until 10:30 p.m.-despite the fact that it is Ramadan.  And on Friday, supposedly the workers' weekly holiday, nine lines were forced to work from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon.)

 

Yet Another Rape Victim at Classic

The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights and the United Steelworkers union are in contact with another rape victim at Classic.  We estimate it will take us another month to month-and-a-half to thoroughly investigate, document and film the case of this rape victim.  We will not make the same mistake again.  This time we will carry out our own investigation, and to protect the rape victim, we will not share our information with any Jordanian agencies until our final documentation is released.  (We are also aware of another recent rape at the CCKM factory.)

 

A Clarification regarding Mr. Rafiq Alam

Mr. Rafiq Alam, an internationally recognized human rights leader, works for the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights and the United Steelworkers union in the United States and Canada.  Everything Mr. Alam does is in accordance with the instructions given him by Mr. Charles Kernaghan, director of GLHR and Mr. Tim Waters, political director of the United Steelworkers union.  If the Jordanian authorities want to question anyone, it should be Charles Kernaghan and Tim Waters.  We would not be reticent to speak about the sexual abuse and gross worker rights violations that characterize the Classic sweatshop factory.  We would also be prepared to discuss the government's shoddy investigation into the rape allegations at Classic.

 

This Is What We Are Certain of:

1.) At our instruction, Rafiq Alam was travelling to Jordan to rescue a Bangladeshi woman guest worker at Classic named Ms. Shilpi.  After "Nazma" was violently raped by Classic general manager Anil Santha in late March, Nazma confided in Shilpi, explaining how she had been abused.  Nazma was crying and Ms. Shilpi helped her.  They lived in the same primitive dorm room with eight other women.  After Anil raped Nazma again in mid-May, Ms. Shilpi actually helped her escape from the Classic factory.  On Friday morning, June 17, at 6:30 a.m., Mr. Shilpi accompanied Nazma to a certain street where Rafiq was waiting with a cab.  Within an hour and a half, Nazma was free.  She had escaped from the factory and her rapist.  And she was safe in the care of Institute staff including director Charles Kernaghan, and United Steelworkers union political director Tim Waters. 

At the Family Protection Department, when questioned by the prosecutor, Nazma raised her right hand and swore an oath to God, and then turned to Anil Santha and pointing at him stated:  "This is the man who has repeatedly raped me."

 

2.) The Jordanian police and prosecutor's investigation into Anil and other serial rapists at Classic runs into a stone wall.  Not one piece of evidence has been discovered.

For example, in her testimony to the prosecutor, when asked whether she had told anyone about being raped, Nazma told the prosecutor that she had confided in Ms. Shilpi just hours after she was raped.

The prosecutor wanted to speak with Ms. Shilpi, but Shilpi is a very common Bangladeshi name.  There are 18 Shilpis in the Classic factory.  The prosecutor and the police did not go out to the Classic factory.  Rather, they asked Classic management to collect all the Shilpis and bring them to the Family Protection Department.  This played right into the hands of the corrupt managers at Classic.  They gathered up the Shilpis and warned them not to say anything about Nazma being raped and to not say anything negative about the factory.  They were told to lie.  If they didn't, and caused trouble for the factory, they would be forcibly deported and returned to Bangladesh, where they and their parents would be bankrupt, unable to pay off all the money they had borrowed to purchase their three-year work contracts.

As far as we know, there has been no serious attempt to question Classic management regarding the Classic cars and drivers that Anil Santha used to ferry his young women victims to safe houses where he raped them.  The "enablers"-such as supervisor Ms. Jhuma, who fetched the young women Anil wanted to rape, have not been seriously questioned.  Apparently there are no written records or videotape of the company drivers coming and going.  Surely these drivers could immediately identify the safe houses Anil used to rape his young victims.  Why are the investigators so afraid of seriously questioning Classic staff?

The Shilpi who had actually spoken with Nazma after she was violently raped by Anil Santha had to lie to protect herself and her family.  If she did not lie, management would have immediately deported her.

 

3.) The Leak:  In advance, we alerted several Jordanian agencies about our plan to have Mr. Rafiq Alam fly to Jordan to rescue Ms. Shilpi on Thursday morning, August 4.  Somehow-perhaps through Classic managers overhearing the workers speaking about Ms. Shilpi's planned rescue-management was alerted two days before Mr. Alam's arrival in Jordan.

On Wednesday night, August 3, management confiscated Shilpi's cell phone.  A manager said, "You have a very nice phone," took it from her, then held it to review her list of incoming and outgoing calls.  Calls to her cell number were directed to a management phone.  Then Ms. Shilpi was taken and held captive in her dorm room.  When we spoke with her, through a roommate's phone, she was nervous, frightened and terrified.  She wanted to escape. 

We last spoke with Ms. Shilpi around 10:45 p.m.  Her phone had already been confiscated and she was locked in the dorm.  She spoke with Mr. Alam several times using the cell phone of one of her roommates.  Ms. Shilpi told him that she must be rescued immediately-she felt something terrible would happen.  We believe she knew that management would turn her over to the police and she would be forced to lie and report what management told her to say.  She was begging to be rescued.  Then everything went silent.

In fear for Shilpi's safety, we phoned and begged the National Centre for Human Rights to immediately drive to Classic to free Ms. Shilpi.  They told us they would do so.  We told them it was absolutely critical that Mr. Alam accompany NCHR and the police--if the police entered the factory alone, Ms. Shilpi would panic.  She would have to lie to the police in hope of avoiding punishment by Classic's powerful managers.

Apparently either the National Centre for Human Rights or the police called ahead to Classic management, asking them to hold Mr. Shilpi until they arrived.  This gave the Bangladeshi manager, Mr. Haitem, plenty of time to threaten and terrorize the young woman, Ms. Shilpi.  She was told to lie.   She would have to lie, saying that she and Nazma had never spoken of Nazma's rape by Anil.  She had to lie that she did not help Nazma escape.  Instead, she was told to say that Rafiq was offering Nazma money.

We had begged the National Centre for Human Rights not to leave Ms. Shilpi alone with Classic management.  But that is what happened.

 

4.) Classic is a place of rape, terror and repression:  In the 25 years GLHR has worked to protect the labor, human and women's rights of workers across the developing world, we have never encountered a more vicious, corrupt and cruel factory than Classic.

 

5.) GLHR has never boycotted a factory:  It took years of struggle to convince corporations that cutting and running from a problem factory only further hurts the workers, who have already suffered enough.  By and large, every corporation now agrees that the right thing is to keep their work in the factory, while working together with management to clean up the factory and to guarantee that the legal rights of the workers will finally be respected.  However, given the rampant sexual abuse and extreme worker rights violations of the young women guest workers at Classic, we are very close, for the first time in our history, to appealing to the American people not to purchase Hanes, Target, Macy's, Lands End, Kohl's and Wal-Mart garments made in Jordan, especially at the Classic sweatshop.

 

6.) Foreign guest workers are the most vulnerable:  The foreign guest workers, the vast majority very young women from desperately poor countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, are particularly vulnerable.

For the first time in their lives, they are thousands of miles from their homes and families.  They cannot speak Arabic.  Their freedom of movement is strictly limited.  The women guest workers are allowed out of factories like Classic for just six hours a week, on Friday, the weekly holiday.  The other days they are locked in the factory or dorms.

We have appealed repeatedly to the Jordanian authorities that the young women foreign guest workers will only feel comfortable and able to speak the truth if they are accompanied by known women's and human rights advocates from their home countries.

We can guarantee that-in the presence of respected women's rights advocates from their home countries and if such a meeting is held in a safe and secure location away from Classic factory interference-the Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi women guest workers at Classic would quickly identify scores of rape victims who were brutally abused by factory managers.

Why are Jordanian authorities so opposed to the participation of independent and renowned women's rights advocates from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh? 

In fact, the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement will remain tragically flawed until the tens of thousands of guest workers-who sew garments that enter the U.S. duty free-have access to highly respected and independent women's rights leaders to advocate on the guest workers behalf.

 

 

 

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