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"USAID To Oversee Jordan Labor Reforms, Talks Under FTA Unlikely."

April 20, 2007  |  Share

Inside U.S. Trade
April 20, 2007

The Bush Administration has agreed to fund and oversee efforts by the Jordanian government to ensure companies in the apparel sector adhere to Jordan's labor laws. However, the U.S. does not appear close to a decision to seek consultations with Jordan under the U.S.-Jordan free trade agreement as a way of resolving complaints about Jordan's labor problems.

The AFL-CIO in May 2006 asked the U.S. Trade Representative's office to use FTA consultations to investigate claims from the National Labor Committee about poor conditions in Jordan's apparel sector. The group, along with the National Textile Association, officially filed a case under the FTA in September. In its response letter, the USTR gave no indication it would launch consultations and a USTR official said last week that while USTR officials have reviewed this request, they are continuing their "current path of engagement with the Jordanians, which is yielding improvements and progress."

Problems in the apparel sector in Jordan were cited by a May 2006 report from the National Labor Committee, which cited numerous problems in the working conditions, including those affecting guest workers, in garment factories in Jordan's Qualified Industry Zones (QIZs). Many of the products produced in the QIZs are eligible for duty-free entry to the U.S. under the FTA.

In response to that report, Jordan's Ministry of Labor, in conjunction with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and an independent contractor, released a report in March that confirmed several of the NLC's discoveries, including forced labor, although it did not find "organized (human) trafficking networks" or more than a few cases of child labor and sexual harassment. Still, the report outlined several steps Jordan has taken to improve the situation, part of which involves cooperation with USAID.

Specifically, USAID will fund and oversee Jordan's effort to ensure apparel companies follow Jordan's labor laws, including funds needed for an "international compliance expert" working inside Jordan's Ministry of Labor for one year. This expert will make daily reports to the USAID mission in Jordan on reform activities inside the Ministry, and will also advise the Ministry on how to implement the reforms and coordinate financial assistance to the reform process.

A USAID source added that the agency would also provide funding for two international monitors. The two monitors provided by USAID "continue to undertake inspections and to provide on-the-job training and will provide more formal training in order to beef up the capacity of the local inspectors," the source said.

The compliance expert and two international monitors together cost $442,000, and the USAID source said this and other funding would come from money allocated to Jordan.

In addition, USAID will provide $200,000 for a program aimed at reforming the inspection process "within several ministries, with specific attention to the Ministry of Labor," the source said.

The report outlined several steps Jordan has taken to improve labor protection in the apparel sector, which were the result of work done last year by a joint U.S.-Jordan group tasked with making recommendations.

The report said Jordan took a number of steps, including holding regular meetings with stakeholders to identify problems, increased inspections in the sector, brought four new court cases against labor violators, and closed one garment factory where violations were occurring. Jordan also increased its minimum wage, drafted a new labor law that is "more in line with international standards," promoted the establishment of union offices for guest workers, and discussed the creation of a labor compliance monitoring program with the International Labor Organization.

Over the course of 2007, Jordan will also continue to develop a "core inspection force" that will inspect garment factories, use increased budget resources to boost inspection staff, increase training programs for Jordanian workers so there is less reliance on guest workers, and take several other administrative steps aimed at improving the situation.

A USAID source said an immediate priority from the U.S. side is boosting Jordan's ability to inspect garment factories so "buyers can have the confidence that labor conditions in Jordan's factories meet international standards."



NLC's Jordan Campaign Page

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