Jordan's garment sector: How are brands combatting exploitation and abuse?

Jordan’s garment sector is booming, driven by a free trade agreement with the United States (95% of Jordan’s textile exports go to the US) and cheap migrant labour from South and Southeast Asia. But, despite improvements in working conditions in recent years, driven by the Better Work Jordan program, major risks remain. These include systemic problems around how migrant workers are recruited, including recruitment fees which leave workers at risk of debt bondage; that workers are dependent on sponsors/employers for their legal status; and that workers are unable to freely organise due to restrictions on freedom of association.

In February 2017, we approached 21 mainly US-based garment brands and invited them to answer specific questions on how they were tackling abuse against migrant workers making their clothes, and how they planned to safeguard the rights of Syrian refugees as they entered the workforce. Only 6 brands - Columbia, Gap Inc., Hanes, New Balance, PUMA and PVH (Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger) - responded to the survey. 

The failure of many brands to take the action necessary to protect migrant workers against long standing risks, highlights the danger that Syrian refugees could face similar exploitation as this vulnerable group enters the garment sector workforce. Jordan is currently hosting an estimated 1.3 million Syrian refugees, which must be contrasted with the low numbers offered protection in the US and Europe. In an attempt to provide decent work for refugees, the 2016 Jordan Compact provides factories preferential access to the EU market if at least 15% of their workforce is Syrian. Whilst the current number of refugee garment workers is low, this is set to rise and the majority of brands appear largely ill-prepared to ensure that refugees entering their workforce are safe from exploitation. Gap Inc. is the only apparel brand contacted that indicated it is seeking to proactively support programmes to skill and integrate Syrian refugees into its supply chain.

The Resource Centre recommends that garment brands sourcing from Jordan should: Develop partnerships with local labour and migrant organizations as well as the national garment union that can alert them to risks, and use their influence with factories to improve conditions for workers; develop and share polices that detail how they will specifically protect migrant workers and refugees from exploitation; and work with the International Labour Organisation, Better Work Jordan and national workers’ organisations to persuade the Jordanian Government to reform labour laws to allow workers full freedom of association and improved protections for migrant workers.