March, 20 2013 |  Download PDF |  Share

President Obama May Very Well Clean Up The U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement


Tens of thousands of young women guest workers toil
under brutal sweatshop conditions
sewing Wal-Mart, Hanes and other labels.




U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement

by Charles Kernaghan

It ain’t over till it’s over.”   ─ Yogi Berra

Yogi was often right.  Who would have thought that after 11 years of failed policies under the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement — with guest workers stripped of their rights, facing rampant sexual harassment and abuse, and with no right to organize a real, independent union — there could still be hope.

But on January 28, 2013, seemingly out of nowhere, the United States and Jordan “agreed to a new initiative aimed at promoting labor rights and improving working conditions in Jordan.”  According to the new Implementation Plan:

  • “Under the United States-Jordanian Free Trade Agreement...Jordan confirms its ongoing commitment to protect internationally recognized labor rights and effectively enforce Jordan’s labor laws...”

The Jordanian government will,

  • “Address anti-union discrimination against foreign workers, conditions of their accommodations [dorms] and sexual harassment of and gender discrimination against such workers in the workplace...”
  • “Issue a directive clarifying that Jordan will investigate patterns of discrimination against workers involved in trade union or associated activity...with respect to the non-renewal of work contracts.”
  • “Issue a directive clarifying the illegality of actions constituting sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and gender discrimination in the workplace.”
  • “Train Ministry of Labor officials, especially inspectors, on Article 29 of the labor law...for investigating and prosecuting cases of sexual harassment and gender discrimination”....and “to enforce Ministry of Health regulations for factory dormitories.”
  • Conduct outreach that “would address the rights of foreign workers to join unions and to be free from anti-union discrimination in addition to the right to be free from sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace.”

None of this would have happened by chance.  We can now account for the rush to improve human, worker and women’s rights under the new U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement.

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry will land in Jordan tomorrow, Friday, March 22, and remain for meetings through Saturday, March 23.

When President Obama and Secretary Kerry meet with King Abdullah II, the issue of the rights of guest workers may very well come up.

Perhaps the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement may finally become a success, where women guest workers will no longer face sexual harassment and abuse, and will have the legal right to join a real union.

There is hope.

Meeting in Dhaka on February 12, 2012.  Former Classic workers testified that they had witnessed and been victim to sexual abuse and rape at the Classic Fashion in Jordan.


Classic Fashion Apparel Industry is Jordan’s largest exporter of garments and, since 2011 has been in the spotlight for alleged sexual abuse young women foreign guest workers.  In 2012, Jordan exported nearly $1 billion worth of apparel to the U.S.

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What Is To Be Done

The U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement Is Not in Compliance
With Internationally Recognized Worker Rights Standards.

  1. A fact-finding delegation of experts, including women’s rights advocates and trade union leaders, will join the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights to travel to Jordan, meet with and assess the practices of the Jordanian General Trade Union of Workers in Textile, Garment and Clothing Industries.  The guest workers are very clear that the Jordanian “union” has done nothing to help them — despite the fact that they have joined the union and pay dues.

    If that is the case, the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement (FTA) should be suspended — including duty-free access to the U.S. — until the Jordanian Government and union finally implement concrete steps to guarantee internationally recognized workers rights standards for Jordan’s tens of thousands of guest workers. 

    A full 11 years after the implementation of the U.S.-Jordan FTA, guest workers are still denied their most fundamental human and worker rights.

  2. The Better Work Jordan program also appears to be seriously flawed.  In light of the failure of the Jordanian union, Better Work Jordan was specifically funded to improve respect for worker rights standards in Jordan’s over 80 garment export factories.  Unfortunately, it appears that the “Worker Participatory Committees” that Better Work Jordan is forming in factories across Jordan are fully controlled by factory management, who in fact “elects” the workers to the “Workers Participatory Committees.”

    The Better Work Jordan program should be suspended until a General Accounting Office (GAO) audit can be conducted to see if Better Work Jordan is violating internationally recognized worker rights standards.

  3. Jordan is going backward and discrimination is growing.  Factory owners across Jordan are shedding male foreign guest workers and opting to focus on recruiting very young women — 20 to 30 years of age — from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Burma, China and Nepal to staff their plants.  For example, Sanal Kumar — the owner of Classic Fashion, Jordan’s largest export factory, which produces for Wal-Mart and Hanesbrands — is exclusively importing “batches” of young women from poor, third world countries.  Kumar recently promoted Faruk Miah, who according to the workers is serial rapist, to the position of General Manager of two of his factories.

    Purposefully blocking the entry of male guest workers will only exacerbate the widespread sexual abuse of young women guest workers in Jordan.  The gender discrimination against male guest workers must be ended.

  4. False charges must be dropped against an internationally respected labor rights activist.

    Mr. Rafiqul Alam, a highly-respected labor rights activist in Bangladesh, who heads up the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights’ operations in Bangladesh and Jordan, is still facing trumped-up charges by the management of the Classic Fashion factory.  Ms. Alam was in Jordan, along with Charles Kernaghan, director of the Institute, and Tim Waters, political director of the United Steelworkers International Union, to rescue a young woman, Rani, who has testified that she was repeatedly raped by Anil Santha, the general manager of Classic Fashion.  Santha has finally been fired and deported back to Sri Lanka.  Surely under the U.S.-Jordan FTA, the false charges against Mr. Alam should be dropped.

  5. End the Isolation:  Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) must play a role.

    A critical step to improve labor rights conditions for guest workers in Jordan would be to allow well-respected, independent women’s rights NGOs from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma, China and Nepal to visit Jordan at least twice a year.  These delegations must be accorded free access to the factories and dorms, and the ability to conduct confidential meetings with the workers.  This is the only way the young women guest workers will be able to learn their legal rights, start to trust each other and to share information regarding the true conditions in their factories and dorms.  The young women guest workers will no longer be isolated.

    To date, the Jordanian National Centre for Human Rights continues to block entry of highly respected women’s rights advocates from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and other countries into Jordan.

  6. After the labor fact-finding delegation returns from Jordan, we suggest that a meeting be held at the Office of the United States Trade Representative in Washington, D.C. to discuss our findings and jointly agree upon concrete steps to improve compliance with internationally recognized worker rights standards in Jordan.

    The goal is to finally implement the labor rights standards that have been agreed upon — at least on paper — under the U.S.-Jordan FTA for the last 11 years.

  7. The Classic Fashion Apparel Industry group of factories in Jordan must be shut down and the guest workers relocated to better factories.  It is either that or Classic’s owner should sell the factory and its equipment to a responsible owner who will guarantee the legal human, women’s and worker rights standards.

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“Danskin Now” and “Starter” labels, sold exclusively at Wal-Mart were being produced at Classic in January 2013.


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