Eliminating Forced Labour and Trafficking in Jordan

The project seeks to strengthen government law enforcement capacity to identify, investigate and prosecute offences for forced labour and human trafficking; and support the establishment of an efficient and regulated recruitment mechanism.


The progressive integration of Jordan’s economy into the world economy through the conclusion of various international and bi-lateral agreements has significantly contributed to stimulate growth and employment in Jordan, especially in exporting sectors of the country. In 1996 Jordan established the Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ), the products of which are granted duty free and quota free access to the US market. Also, in December 2001 Jordan and the US signed a Free Trade Agreement, which also allows preferential duty-free treatment for goods and services originated in the United States and Jordan. As a result, Jordanian exports to the US market increased to $1.3 billion in 2006, and approximately 56,000 jobs were created in the 97 QIZ garment factories operating in 2008. Interestingly, almost 60% of the labour force in these factories is non-Jordanian coming from countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and China. High participation of foreign workers in QIZs might be explained on the one hand by the lack of a skilled workforce, a lack of training opportunities provided by the industry and what is considered by some Jordanians to be low wages, and on the other hand by cultural and geographical barriers preventing potential workers from commuting to or moving to living in the QIZs.

The Jordanian government has been facing serious challenges with regard to the situation and conditions of the migrant workers in these zones. In May 2006, a report of the National Labour Committee (NLC), alleging that a combination of prevailing recruitment practices and working conditions in the QIZs, such as forced overtime, confiscation of passports and incorrect payment of wages, amounted to trafficking, drew widespread attention. In response to this report, the Government of Jordan and USAID contracted with a social compliance firm to conduct an assessment of the situation. The resulting report titled “Working Conditions in Jordan’s Garment Sector” confirmed some of the NLC’s allegations, mainly regarding foreign workers’ incorrect payment of wages, sub-standard work conditions as well as persistent discriminatory practices, but dispelled others. The same report also underlined the need to foster cooperation between Jordan authorities and labour force sending countries in order to effectively monitor recruitment processes. In conjunction with the publication of this report, the Government published an action plan to improve labour administration and working conditions, the latter especially in the QIZs (see www.mol.gov.jo). The subsequent Government efforts have resulted in some improvements in the working conditions in the QIZs. However, the Government realises though that certain problems persist and need to be addressed.

There is, however, another sector where reports of forced labour and trafficking are an area of concern. Partly because of the entry of women into the labour market, many households in Jordan have secured the services of foreign domestic workers. Official figures put their number at about 43,500, though it is believed the real number is higher. They are often female and come mainly from Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Over the past years, a number of organizations have published reports alleging irregular recruitment, non-payment of wages, and physical and sexual abuse. Here too the Government has made some progress working with UNIFEM on the development and introduction of a standard work contract and a nation-wide awareness campaign. Again, the Government acknowledges persistent problems in this area and has taken further action to address them.

Independently, and in collaboration with the ILO and other partners, the Government has taken progressive steps to better translate into domestic legislation its political commitment to combat human trafficking and forced labour. Some proposed amendments to the labour law were adopted by Parliament in July 2008. These include extending the coverage of the law to workers in the agriculture and domestic sectors. The new law also introduced some articles related to forced labour and sexual harassment where previously there were no such articles. There was also a proposed amendment to allow migrant workers to join unions. Unfortunately, Parliament rejected this amendment. It is understood that the Government, with the support of the social partners, is planning to resubmit this amendment, albeit in a different format, together with further amendments.

At the institutional level, in early 2007 the Government formed an Inter-Ministerial Committee for the coordination of labour issues, including trafficking in persons. The Committee’s work first focused on a single QIZ factory and led to the first sentences ever in Jordan for physical abuse of workers by a number of QIZ factory line supervisors. According to Government officials, since its restructuring the Committee directly solved 8 cases of serious worker rights violations and referred 14 cases of trafficking-related offences to different prosecution/judicial entities.

Since early 2007, the Government has been working in partnership with the ILO in implementing a pilot programme on Combating Forced Labour and Trafficking in the QIZs. In August 2008 the Prime Minister formed a Ministerial Committee on Trafficking, composed of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Health, Justice, Labour, Social Affairs, and Trade and Industry, and the Public Security Department.

Notwithstanding, the significant efforts made by the Government to eliminate forced labour and trafficking in Jordan, especially in the QIZs, there is still a great need for further action for the consolidation of a national strategy and action plan to eliminate human trafficking and forced labour in the country. Acknowledging this need, the Jordanian government as well as employers’ and workers organizations have expressed their interest to continue collaborating with the ILO in this respect. The project outlined in this document is intended to build and expand on the ongoing Pilot Programme on the QIZs, ending in December 2008. The new project would run for a period of 18 months and is designed to assist the Jordanian government and social partners in following up and capitalizing on the measures taken to combat and prosecute human trafficking while including a specific dimension on regulating and monitoring the recruitment process.

The project

The project will seek to address the specific challenges of the government, employers, and workers organizations to build local capacity and national and cross-border cooperation and to strength enforcement of legislation against human trafficking.

Accordingly, target groups at the national level are labour inspectors, police officers, the judiciary, immigration and border officials, workers’ and employers’ organizations, social workers and non-governmental organizations. At the international level Government officials from Jordan and selected officials from countries will also play a crucial role in regulating recruitment and preventing human trafficking.

Moreover, the project will encourage close collaboration with other UN agencies and International organizations, particularly with UNIFEM who are active with regard to eradicating forced labour in the Jordanian domestic sector.

The final beneficiaries of the project are actual and potential victims of forced labour and human trafficking in Jordan, who will enjoy improved protection and services.

In implementing this project, the ILO Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour (SAP-FL) will rely on its wide-ranging and comprehensive approach to combat forced labour and trafficking.

  • Support to the Government of Jordan whether directly through this project or indirectly through other projects will build on the experience and tools developed by SAP-FL, such as the handbook on forced labour and human trafficking for labour inspectors and the specialized training programmes developed with the Turin Training Centre for judges, lawyers and prosecutors. Training programmes targeting labour inspectors will take into consideration the changes introduced to the labour law related to domestic workers.
  • Activities with employers will be driven by the recently launched “Business Alliance to Combat Forced Labour” which aims at strengthening the capacities of employers’ organizations on forced labour and integrating the issue better within their overall objectives.
  • Similarly, activities with workers will benefit from the support of the “Global Trade Union Alliance against Forced Labour and Trafficking” and the related action plan adopted by the International Trade Union Congress in December 2007.

Moreover, SAP-FL has been increasingly engaging labour force sending countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam and China. The activities and studies done in these countries are essential to the activities proposed in this project for regulating and monitoring the recruitment process where violations usually start in the sending countries and may continue in the receiving countries.