From Steven Greenhouse, my hero at the Times:
Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Committee, which has exposed mistreatment in factories in Central America and China, said he was shocked by what he discovered in Jordan.
“These are the worst conditions I’ve ever seen,” he said. “You have people working 48 hours straight. You have workers who were stripped of their passports, who don’t have ID cards that allow them to go out on the street. If they’re stopped, they can be imprisoned or deported, so they’re trapped, often held under conditions of involuntary servitude.”
Mr. Kernaghan said Bangladeshi workers had contacted his organization to complain about working conditions in Jordan. He then traveled to Jordan and met quietly with dozens of workers. He said American companies, despite their monitoring efforts, were often slow to uncover workplace abuses because workers were coached to lie to them or were scared to speak out. Moreover, factories often send work out to substandard subcontractors without notifying American retailers.
Several foreign apparel workers said that while their factories required them to stay until midnight, the Jordanian workers were usually allowed to leave at 4 p.m.
and from the mouth of Charlie Kernaghan, that’s saying a lot.
Read the NLC’s full report on Jordan for yourself.
One of the most incredible/challenging/gutwrenching experiences of my life was spending nearly 2 years working with the National Labor Committee, during which I saw some of the most horrific living and working conditions you can imagine. And for Charlie and the NLC, who exposed Disney’s atrocities in Haiti, who put Kathie Lee Gifford on blast, who got to P Diddy on his Sean John label, who’s worked with China Labor Watch, for him to call these conditions the worst after the conditions I saw in Haiti, Honduras, and Bangladesh, wow.
Jon Tasini picks up the story as well in his blog, and adds this additionally frustrating salient point:
Here’s what is particularly fascinating about this story. When it was signed in 2000 and then passed by the Congress in 2001, the U.S.-Jordan trade pact was billed as a deal that had labor and environmental provisions written in as part of the core text, not just tacked on as irrelevant side agreements similar to what the Clinton Administration did with NAFTA. The U.S.-Jordan deal required that Jordan adhere to international standards for labor rights.
This deal was so non-controversial it passed the U.S. Senate by voice vote i.e., there was no recorded votes to see where individual senators stood. Even Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, one of the fiercest opponents of so-called “free trade,” supported the deal.
Companies will continue to violate human rights with impunity and pass the buck, claiming its the fault of their subcontractors until we figure out way to make them pay. We do not provide for independent monitoring or serious penalties that go to source, so why should they? This is the same reason employers fire organizers of unions here, the same reason employers hire workers without documents, because we don’t make the penalty discouraging enough.
Instead of keeping the contracts in the horrible factories on the condition that conditions and pay improve, I guarantee that any company in the factories profiled in Jordan for these abuses will immediately move their work out, putting these paperless workers out of jobs and reminding any worker around the world of what will happen if they DARE speak up for themselves.
Act now: Support the NLC, and buy Fair Trade alternatives where you can find them.