There are growing concerns at the recruitment and working conditions of foreign workers in Jordanian factories, in particular those recruited mainly from Asia (Bangladesh, China and Sri Lanka, and to a lesser extent India and the Philippines) for short-term employment in the QIZ. A May 2006 report by the US-based National Labor Coalition (NLC) drew widespread attention to this issue in the US itself, and prompted the Government of Jordan to pledge intensified action to monitor conditions in the QIZ and prevent labour abuse.
From information available to SAP-FL, including that gathered during a rapid assessment in Amman in August 2006, there appears to be a generalized and structural problem in the 114 QIZ factories, though practice by some managers may have been particularly abusive. Contributory factors are serious deficiencies in the labour law itself, and in the overseas recruitment practices, as well as weak labour inspection. Interestingly, there are some variations by ethnic group and country of origin. The overseas workers in the QIZ come mainly from Bangladesh, China and Sri Lanka, to a lesser extent from India, and in small numbers from the Philippines (for the latter country, QIZ conditions are not competitive with domestic work).
Situations of trafficking, as observed in the NLC report, derive from the abusive recruitment practices than can result in debt-bondage and non-payment of wages (together with the other coercive practices and threats that tend to accompany these in the destination factory). Several interlocutors during the August rapid assessment, including consular officials from the Philippines and Sri Lanka, highlighted these. Even when recruitment agencies in the sender countries were on their “black list”, these could still receive the Jordanian visas which enabled them to continue to send workers.
Under current practices, foreign workers are tied to one QIZ enterprise. This has led to perhaps unintended consequences, when a QIZ has been ordered to close. The workers have sometimes not been repatriated, but have become a floating and technically illegal labour force selling their labour at random in the QIZ. Though they may negotiate wages higher than the average, they do not enjoy other benefits and security, and are liable to arrest.
Effective action against human trafficking will require some attention to the legal framework, as well as improved application of both criminal and labour legislation, and streamlined procedures for cooperation between different law enforcement agencies, together with labour inspection services. Most important is to address in labour law the deficient practices that can contribute to forced labour and trafficking situations. For example there are currently no provisions on hours of work. And there is a clear need for regulations on recruitment agencies, particularly those engaged in recruiting foreign workers.
The programme will focus on capacity building for labour inspection and criminal law enforcement officials, and on promoting cooperation between relevant agencies in order to ensure more effective law enforcement. It will also include a training programme for the judiciary on forced labour and trafficking, as well as activities with employers’ and workers’ organizations to monitor conditions of recruitment and work in the QIZ. The programme will be implemented in close cooperation with other US-funded initiatives in Jordan, including a USDOL- funded ILO/Declaration project covering fundamental principles and rights at work and labour law reform, and USAID initiatives to monitor work conditions in the QIZ and elsewhere.
The project will comprise:
- Initial awareness and capacity-building activities, to generate consensus for an intensified programme of action against forced labour and trafficking, comprising trafficking offenders and the protection of victims
- Preparation and dissemination of training materials
- Assistance for inter-Ministerial mechanisms and cooperation on law enforcement
- Intensive training for Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Labour officials on means to identify and prosecute forced labour/trafficking cases
- Training programme for the judiciary
- Activities with employers’ and workers’ organizations, to promote codes of pracice against forced labour, monitor recruitment of migrant workers and develop safeguards against forced labour abuse.