Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Colorblindedness

Have you seen the full report by the National Labor Committee on the treatment of workers here in Jordan's free trade zones? Someone sent it to me earlier today and I can barely get through it--I'm seething with anger and nearly in tears at the unbelievable situations these poor people have been in.

It's even more shocking than I imagined--and not that I couldn't have imagined much. After living here for 7 years, I'm very well aware of the horrifying situation of most of the country's foreign workers.

Why is it generally acceptable here that these people don't deserve the same rights as everyone else? Why are they so looked down upon? Why do many of the homes I know of who have maids keep them working from 7 am until 10 pm, with no days off during the week?

When I lived in Cameroon, most of the people in my village were Muslim. Most of them yearned to go to Mecca and to visit the Middle East, where the "true Islam," as they called it, was practiced. I also remember how I began to learn about Islam and how I was so blown away by its message of equality and racial colorblindedness. In those years, I truly had a sense that my Muslim friends in Cameroon were part of a global Islamic community in which they could always feel at home.

If only that were true here in the Middle East. I'm just glad that most of my Cameroonian friends have no clue that their idea of Islam doesn't exist here and that, despite everything, they're more likely to be defined by their color than anything else should they make their way to this part of the world.

2 Comments:

At 7:08 AM, Anonymous kinzi said...

Amanda, those are good, strong words that need to be said on several fronts.

Did anyone notice the five Chinese women who spent four days (and I think nights, based on the time of night I drove by once)camped out in front of the Chinese Embassy? I wondered if there was a connection to the labor problem.

 
At 8:44 AM, Anonymous onzlo said...

Ministry report criticises working conditions in QIZs



By Mahmoud Al Abed and Khalid Nueimat

AMMAN — A US delegation from the National Labour Committee (NLC) and US unionists on Thursday visited the Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) as the Ministry of Labour released its report on the status of migrant workers.

The ministry’s report was prompted by an NLC report issued earlier this month, describing QIZ factories as violators of foreign workers’ rights.

The NLC report spoke of violations in 28 establishments in the QIZ compounds of Duleil, Sahab and Al Hassan Industrial Estate in Irbid. The report concluded that migrant workers face abusive working conditions and suffer labour rights violations.

Ministry inspection teams found that three companies mentioned in the NLC report “do not exist on the ground,” while three others have closed down.

The report, a copy of which was made available to The Jordan Times, found that “violations do exist in some factories in terms of overtime hours. Workers work above the legal maximum and they are not paid according to the legal overtime, which is 125 per cent of the hourly wage.”

In addition, some establishments do not observe the official holidays/weekends in terms of wage calculation for these days, while several establishments do not comply with social security laws and, instead, deduct the employers’ contribution from the workers’ wages, according to the report.

The ministry’s inspectors also found that some QIZ establishments employ migrant workers without work permits or with expired work permits.

They agreed with the NLC that housing conditions are below standard. The dorms, they said, are overcrowded and sanitary facilities do not fulfil basic standards, while some of the factories do not comply with safety and health standards.

The ministry, however, concluded that some of the allegations included in the NLC report are unfounded.

For example, it claimed that in the Indian factory, Al Safa, a 20-year-old Bangladeshi female worker hanged herself in the toilet because the factory manager raped her.

“The forensic report said she was not raped,” the ministry’s report said, adding that in many of the factories in question, child labour, seven-day working weeks and physical abuse allegations were not verified.

In order to ensure that QIZ factories are in full compliance with Jordanian and international standards, the Labour Ministry has developed a detailed action plan, which includes procedures to be taken solely, or in cooperation with other stakeholders such as the International Labour Organisation, and the ministries of health and interior, among others.

JGATE clarifies situation to NLC representatives

Meanwhile, a three-member delegation representing the NLC, including its executive director and the report’s author Charles Kernaghan, will leave the country today after a two-day visit.

Jordan Garment, Accessories and Textiles Exporters’ Association (JGATE) Vice Chairman Kamil Fakhouri told a press conference late Thursday it discussed the issue of labour trafficking with the NLC delegates.

“Labour trafficking is not a Jordanian problem, but rather an international phenomenon. It takes place in countries other than Jordan through under-the-counter deals that the world, particularly the US, should stand up to and address,” Fakhouri told reporters.

According to the JGATE official, the report reflects internal differences in US society over free trade agreements.

The report, he said, apparently supports the argument of those who reject such agreements. He said blue-chip companies cited repeatedly in the NLC report like Wal-Mart, are accused of getting richer by exploiting workers. “This is an internal US matter and Jordan simply found itself in the crossfire,” he claimed.

The other two delegates — US Steelworkers Union National Director Tim Waters and Legislative Representative Holly Hart — are expected to draft a report on their visit. They are also due to set advisory guidelines that would help both the private and public sectors in Jordan to correct the labour situation.

“We admit there are violations by a minority of employers. But this should not undermine the entire image of Jordan,” Fakhouri said.

JGATE representatives and officials plan to initiate contacts with other US parties concerned with the issue, including Congress and Department of Commerce.

“Jordan’s FTA with the US is at stake here,” the JGATE official said.

Fakhouri said the labour activists had commended the “swift response of the Jordanian authorities and the fact that the country did not take a defensive position.”

Jordantimes Friday-Saturday, May 19-20, 2006

 

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