95% of Jordans apparel exports go to the US

95% of Jordan's apparel exports go to the US

Fashion brands sourcing from Jordan have been accused of taking little targeted action to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers in their supply chains.

A survey carried out by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre with 21 garment brands looked at how they tackle abuse against migrant workers making their clothes in Jordan, and how they plan to safeguard the rights of Syrian refugees entering the workforce.

Only six brands – Columbia, Gap Inc, Hanesbrands, New Balance, Puma and PVH (Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger) – responded to the survey, the Centre said.

Gap, Puma and New Balance stood out because they have specific policies in place to safeguard migrant workers and take some targeted steps on key issues such as recruitment fees and worker engagement. American Eagle Outfitters, Carhartt and JC Penney, however, did not respond and the Resource Centre did not find a publicly available migrant worker policy for these companies.

Jordan's garment sector is booming, driven by a free trade agreement with the US (95% of Jordan's apparel 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 programme, major risks remain. These include:

  • Systemic problems around how migrant workers are recruited, including recruitment fees that leave workers at risk of debt bondage;
  • Workers being dependent on sponsors/employers for their legal status; and
  • Workers are unable to freely organise due to restrictions on freedom of association.

While only 30% of companies responded to the survey questions, the Resource Centre says that for comparison, the global response rate to allegations of abuse is around 75%.

"Brands really need to take this more seriously," notes Danielle McMullan, senior labour Researcher at the Resource Centre. "Work in garment factories provides migrants and refugees a valuable lifeline, but it should not be accompanied by the unacceptable risks we are seeing. Brands sourcing from Jordan have a responsibility to make sure this exploitation does not happen, which means addressing the underlying causes, like the way workers are recruited, which so often leaves them vulnerable to abuse."

Jordan is currently hosting an estimated 1.3m Syrian refugees. 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. While the current number of refugee garment workers is low, the Resource Centre says 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 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," it said.

Recommendations are that garment brands sourcing from Jordan should develop partnerships with local labour and migrant organisations as well as the national garment union that can alert them to risks, and use their influence with factories to improve conditions for workers.

The group also calls on brands to develop and share polices that detail how they will specifically protect migrant workers and refugees from exploitation, and work with the International Labour Organization, 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.