US-Style Free Trade's Dark Side


Posted: 2011/07/28

From: Mathaba
Corporate predators seek cheap labor worldwide in countries like China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Haiti, Jordan, and many others.


by Stephen Lendman

Employed in global sweatshops, they work up to 90 or more hours a week for sub-poverty wages under horrific conditions, enduring harassment, beatings, sexual abuse and rape.

According to the group Sweatshop Watch:

"A sweatshop is a workplace that violates the law and where workers are subject to:

-- extreme exploitation, including the absence of a living wage or long hours;

-- poor working conditions, such as health and safety hazards;

-- arbitrary discipline, such as verbal or physical abuse, or

-- fear and intimidation when they speak out, organize, or attempt to form a union."

It's mainly a women's rights issue as 90% of the workforce is female, between the ages of 15 - 25.

The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (IGLHR) "investigates and exposes human and labor rights abuses committed by (transnational) corporations producing goods in the developing world."

Two June reports discussed hellish conditions in Jordanian garment factories, where workers are ruthlessly exploited and abused. According to IGLHR's Charles Kernaghan, they're:

"stripped of their passports, forced to work (up to) grueling 99 and a half hour work weeks (minimally 78 hours), while being shortchanged of their rightful wages, housed in overcrowded, primitive dorms infested with bedbugs (with no heat or hot water), and subjected to verbal and physical abuse."

In addition, "the food is awful." It's always the same, low quality, and never enough. For breakfast, it's two pieces of stale bread, lentil soup and tea. Lunch is rice and "old chicken." For dinner, women prefer preparing their own meals in their dorm, using an electric hotplate.

Moreover, despite garments entering America duty-free, under terms of the US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement (FTA), workers are prohibited from unionizing. In fact, Jordan's Ministry of Labor is complicit by not enforcing Jordan's labor laws.

Indian-owned Classic Fashion Apparel Industry Ltd is Jordan's largest garment export factory, producing clothing for Kohl's, Target, Macy's, Hanes, Wal-Mart, and other companies.

According to witnesses, young Sri Lankan women sewing for Wal-Mart and Hanes suffer routine sexual abuse and rape, even at times torture. If become pregnant, they're forcibly sent home. Moreover, women "who refuse the sexual advances of Classic's managers are also beaten and deported."

Anil Santha is Classic's general manager. Abusing women repeatedly, he and other managers ignore their culture where highly prized virginity is a prerequisite for marriage.

In October 2010, 2,400 Sri Lankan and Indian workers walked out, demanding Santha's removal. After leaving for month, he returned. Jordan's Labor Ministry knows about the problem but won't address it.

Classic's standard shift is 13-hour days, six or seven days a week, with 18 and a half hour shifts before garments are shipped to America. According to witnesses, workers are harassed, cursed, beaten, and shortchanged on wages for not reaching mandatory quotas. Pressing them to work faster, managers "grope and fondle them."

Coming from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Egypt, they earn from 61 - 74 and a half cents an hour. In the last five years, no increases were granted. With extremely limited freedom, they're let out of the factory compound one day a week for six hours. However, when forced to work longer hours, they get out only once or twice a month.

Wal-Mart, Hanes and other buyers do little to help. At the same time, managers threaten workers to say conditions are good. Since enacted in October 2000, the US-Jordan FTA failed to provide any protections for 30,000 exploited guest workers.

One recently deported Classic woman said:

"(A)ll the workers of Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, everybody will testify that (Santha) raped the Sri Lankan women. Everybody knows. In a safe place," they'll say so.

Kernaghan said testimonies of courageous women revealed "the horrific sexual abuse and rapes that have been going on in Jordan since at least 2007." Information gotten stunned him, indicting Jordan's Labor Ministry, Wal-Mart, Hanes and Washington for doing nothing to stop it.

In fact, Jordan's Labor Ministry awarded Classic "Golden List" status for the last four and three-fourths years. It's supposed to be for companies that comply fully with Jordanian laws and labor rights provisions of the US-Jordan FTA.

A US-funded "Better Work Jordan" monitoring group also inspected Classic's factories for the past two years, saying:

"Better Work Jordan certifies Classic Fashion for producing garments (for) major retailers and brands like Wal-Mart, Kohl's, Hanesbrands, Jones Apparel, Sears, Lands End, to name a few."

  • "Social Accountability and Sustainability,"
  • Awards and recognitions
  • Classic Fashion website
In fact, Classic is a serial exploitive predator "running wild, abusing and torturing scores of young women guest workers, especially" from Sri Lanka. Their rights are grievously violated.

Complaints aren't tolerated. Women doing so are forcibly deported on false charges. Classic workers "are trapped in a hell hole with no exit and nowhere to turn for help.

Testimony of One Sri Lankan Woman in May 2011

Her name changed for her safety, Ms. Latha said:

"Please help us....Please do something to have (Santha) removed so that the lives and hopes of other innocent girls are not destroyed further."

"He summoned me to his office and made his demand, and warned me not to tell anyone....I feel so exposed and shameful sharing what he did to me....And it wasn't only me. There were three or four other girls there too. He did this to us in the presence of one another....If any one of us either talked about this episode or did anything about it, the person would be immediately deported to Sri Lanka....What is tragic is that (new arrivals) will continue to fall prey to this monster."

Other victims confirmed Ms. Latha's account. They also described sweatshop conditions, long hours, abuse on the job, and no one to turn to for help. Moreover, if ill, Classic's "free health care" means an "aspirin." Beyond that, workers are on their own.

Washington calls the US-Jordan FTA a model free trade agreement. It's similar to others with developing countries, exploiting and abusing workers for profit.

Rich Pine International Ltd - Another Corporate Abuser

Twiwanese owned, it employs about 750 Chinese guest workers (95% young women), 175 Bangladeshis, and nearly 300 Jordanians, producing clothing for Liz Claiborne, Macy's, Kohl's, Ralph Lauren, Hudson Bay and others.

Reminiscent of slavery, young Chinese workers "are fleeing the grueling 93-hour workweek. Nonetheless, Rich Pine also got "Golden List" status, including it among Jordan's best garment exporters.

However, according to one guest worker:

"Every month, every week, Chinese workers flee from the factory as they cannot survive all the excessive work hours."

"Our health and minds are broken. Here, nobody takes care of us. It is not a life of a human being. We have no enjoyment or recreation in our daily lives....We have no freedom at all....(W)e do not have time to even call our families each week....We have very little time to even wash our clothes. Exhausted."

At most, Rich Pine workers get one or two days off every two or three months. On a Karen Scott brand production line, they must complete 50 to 60 garments per hour, depending on the sewing complexity.

Besides an exhausting routine, they're housed in a dorm, six to eight workers on double-level bunk beds in 10' x 10' to 12' x 12' rooms. Without showers, buckets are used to wash. Each worker gets two per week, filled with lukewarm water. Dorms are unheated, making them "miserable" in winter. No electric outlets are available, so workers have no television.

Base pay is $180 a month ($2,160 per year), or 86 and a half cents an hour. Workers can earn up to $350 a month with enough overtime. However, they don't know how their wages are calculated so are easily cheated.

Monitoring is a "farce." It's planned, announced in advance, and managers order women to say everything is fine. When Labor Ministry representatives visit, they deal with management, not workers.

"Pseudo healthcare" is provided. Two doctors and a nurse provide it. If medicines are prescribed, workers are on their own, and paid sick days aren't allowed.

Sexual harassment is also widespread. It's why so many young Chinese women flee. Again, lack of oversight or concern lets the most abusive practices continue, facilitated by Jordanian authorities and the US-Jordan FTA, in place for profits, not worker rights.

No wonder IGLHR calls the world "a desperate place for the poor." Global trade rules don't protect them. They struggle to keep jobs they know will harm them because of no choice. It's do it or perhaps perish with no income or way to help support families.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected].

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.#