September 30, 2007

Crisis at Cotton Craft

Update: Good News From Jordan (12/21/07)

Update: Crisis Continues at Cotton Craft (10/02/07)

Cotton Craft Garment Factory
Al Tajamouat Industrial City
Building #D
Amman, Jordan      


Product:    Hanes for Wal-Mart
                Athletech label for Kmart

Workers:   123 foreign guest workers from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka:  110 Bangladeshi
                men and women, 13 Sri Lankans.

  • Victims of human trafficking:  Management confiscates foreign guest workers passports.
    Workers trapped in the industrial park:  Workers are denied their residency permits, without which they cannot venture outside the free trade zone without fear of being stopped by the police and perhaps imprisoned or even forcibly deported for failure to have their legal residency papers.
  • Abused and cheated for three long years:  Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan guest workers at Cotton Craft have suffered constant and terrible abuse for the last three years, while also being cheated of the wages legally due them.
  • Forced to work 15 to 15 ½ hours a day, from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 or 11:00 p.m., seven days a week, putting workers in the factory over 100 hours a week.
  • Workers went out on strike on September 13:  They have been out on strike for more than two weeks now.  Factory management has cut off food, water and electricity to the workers' dorm.  The situation is critical.  Workers face constant threats.  Four or five workers are seriously ill due to lack of food.   One worker in particular, Mr. Azizul (Card #2060), is very ill and needs immediate medical treatment.

Workers Smuggle Video out of Factory
Begging for Help

"We came to Jordan with the goal of earning money.  But the situation here is very adverse.  Please look at our living conditions.  The company didn't give us any blankets.  The slums in Bangladesh are better than the living conditions here.  We sleep on the roof of the dorm....

[Note:  Eighteen workers are forced to share each dorm room, and the dorm is filthy and infested with mice and bugs.   Many workers have fled to the roof.]

"Let me show you one thing.  Look at the water tank.  It has been broken by the owner so we cannot have water.  We do not want to stay here under such inhumane torture.  We have been suffering for more than the last two years due to the brutal administration of the company.  Please take us back to our country or shift us to a better factory.

[The owner] has very good connections with the police.  When we demand our pay, he threatens that we will be attacked by the police.  In this situation, we would rather die than to go back to this factory again.

We fervently appeal to you; please take the necessary steps to send us back home, we cannot bear these sufferings.  Please send us back home or shift us to a better factory in Jordan.

Transcript: Testimony of a male wor


Background--The Long Nightmare:

The long nightmare for the Cotton Craft Workers appeared to finally be over on June 6, 2007, when the Jordanian Ministry of Labor intervened to negotiate an agreement between Cotton Craft's new owner and the workers, in which factory management pledged to strictly adhere to all Jordanian Labor Laws (see attached agreement).  However, the Ministry of Labor agreement lasted just one month.  In July 2007, the Cotton Craft factory again stopped paying overtime, despite the fact that the workers were forced to work more than 14 hours a day, including six hours of overtime, seven days a week, with just one day off a month.  When the workers asked for their proper overtime pay, management responded by beating two of the workers and firing them. 

In August, 2007, the situation even got worse.  Less than 70 percent of the workers received any pay at all, some receiving just their base wage of 110 JD per month ($155.15), and others even less, being paid only 80-90 JD ($112.84-$126.94).  Again, no one received any overtime pay whatsoever despite the mandatory 14 hour shifts.  Workers who asked for their legal wages were again threatened.  On top of cheating the workers of the legal wages due to them, workers who had fallen ill due to the grueling hours, were dragged from their rooms by management, even if it meant breaking the doors down, to forcibly return them to their work stations. 

As the holy month of Ramadan began on Saturday, September 15—when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk—management insisted that the workers still continue to toil 14 hours a day even though they were not being paid their legal wages.

No one has been paid a single cent of their August wages—neither the regular wage nor overtime—which should have been paid at the beginning of September.  Unwilling to suffer any more abuse, it was at the beginning of Ramadan that the workers went out on strike.

The workers' nightmare began more than 2 ½ years ago, when 110 Bangladeshi workers (100 men and 10 women) were recruited to work as guest workers at the Cotton Craft factory at the Al Dulayl Industrial Park.  The workers were promised good wages—more than $250 a month with overtime, one day off a week, free housing, free healthcare and food of high quality.  The workers had to pay $1,500 or more—a great deal of money for their poor families—to purchase their contracts.  Once in Jordan their torture began immediately.

Despite being forced to work 16 to 18 hours a day, the guest workers were not paid a single cent for the first three months of work.  After a year, the workers were shifted to a factory called Ferial in the Janica Free Zone area where they worked for 2 ½ months.  From there, the workers were again transferred, this time to the Dawyima Factory in the Al Tajamouat Industrial City.  After toiling here for about one year, the owner—a Pakistani businessman—opened a new garment factory in the same park, again called Cotton Craft, and transferred all 123 Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan workers to his new factory.   Throughout this entire period, the workers' passports were confiscated, and they did not receive their necessary residency permits, without which they could not venture outside the free trade zone without fear of being stopped by the police and even imprisoned or deported for failure to have their valid documents.  After a few months, and after years of abuse, the owner was forced to surrender his factory to the Jordanian Ministry of Labor.

Part of the agreement, signed on June 6, 2007, called for the new owner of the Cotton Craft Factory to pay every worker 2 ¾ months back wages along with social security payments deducted from the workers' wages by law to be returned to the workers when they leave the factory.  The total amount of money due the workers is approximately 460 JD ($648.80), of which to date only 150 JD ($211.57) has been paid.

Workers Demands

All the workers are demanding is that their most basic human and worker rights—as guaranteed under Jordanian law and the ILO's internationally recognized worker rights standards—be respected.

  • The workers must be paid the back wages and benefits legally due them, including their outstanding overtime pay.
  • Food, water, electricity and medical care must be provided immediately to the workers, some of whom are seriously ill.
  • The siege and constant threat of beatings and imprisonment must be ended immediately.
  • Workers passports must be returned and residency permits provided.
  • The workers should be relocated to a better factory, where their legal rights will finally be respected.
  • In fact, the workers say that there is a fairly new company called Bestco, which is near the Cotton Craft plant.  It is Turkish-owned and the workers have been told it is a good company and has an overflow of work.  Apparently the owner is willing to hire all the Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan workers from the abusive Cotton Craft factory.
  • This would be a win-win situation for the workers, the Bestco company and the Jordanian Government.

This is a very important case for the government of Jordan to act on right away.  These guest workers have suffered terrible abuses for the last three years while working in Jordan.  The Jordanian government must now make these workers whole again.

Joining the Bestco factory, or some other decent factory, would be the best option.  Other than that, the workers must be paid all the back wages, overtime, social security and other benefits due them and provided free plane tickets to return home to Bangladesh or Sri Lanka.

Cotton Craft Garment Factory:  Background on Hours and Wages

Hours—forced overtime

Mandatory 15 to 15 ½ hour daily shifts, from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 or 11:00 p.m., seven days a week.  Workers are at the factory 100 hours a week (105 to 108 ½ hours) while toiling 100 to 103 hours.  At most, workers get one day off a month. 

The legal weekly limit for overtime in Jordan is 13.85 hours.  At Cotton Craft the workers are routinely forced to toil 51 ¾ hours of overtime each week, exceeding the Jordanian limit by 274 percent!

Grueling Routine 15 to 15 ½ hour shifts

7:30 a.m. — 12:30 p.m.

(Work, 5 hours)

12:30 p.m. — 1:00 p.m.

(Lunch, half hour)

1:00 p.m. — 4:30 p.m. 

(Work, 3 ½ hours)

4:30 p.m. — 6:00 p.m.  

(Overtime, 1 ½ hours)

6:00 p.m. — 6:15 p.m. 

(Snack break, 15 minutes)

6:15 p.m. — 10:30 or 11:00 p.m.

(Overtime, 4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours)


The 6:00 p.m. snack consists of just one piece of bread and a small container of juice.

Workers routinely cheated of the wages legally due them

The legal minimum wage in Jordan is 110 JD per month ($155.15) for regular hours, which are eight hours a day, six days a week.  The legal minimum wage is 75 cents an hour.  Weekday overtime must be paid at a 25 percent premium, or 93 cents an hour, while overtime on the weekend must be compensated at a 50 percent premium, $1.12 an hour.

75-cent Minimum Wage

75 cents an hour
$5.97 a day (8 hours)
$35.80 a week (48 hours)
$155.15 a month
$1,861.70 a year

Workers are cheated of 59 percent of the wages legally due them.  For working nearly 100 hours a week (99.75 hours), the workers should be paid at least $86.72, which is only an average of 87 cents an hour—hardly a lordly sum.  Instead, Cotton Craft paid just the regular wage of $35.88, cheating the workers of $50.84 each week.

The wages were, in reality, even worse than they appear.  The Cotton Craft factory also deducted 20 JD ($28.21) from the workers' wages each month for food.  It is questionable whether this is legal or not, but it certainly violates the contract the workers paid and signed for in Bangladesh, which clearly stated that they would receive free food, housing and medical care.  Furthermore, management also punishes the workers for arriving just a few minutes late, not meeting production goals or making even the most minor mistakes, deducting up to 10 JD more per month ($14.10) from the workers' wages.

This would leave many workers earning just 80 JD ($112.84) a month, or $26.04 a week, even if they worked over 50 hours of overtime.

Food at the factory is dismal

For breakfast the workers were given one piece of pita bread with watery lentils.  Lunch consisted of rice and a very small portion of meat or fish.  Dinner was rice with eggplant curry and sometimes lentils.

UPDATE: Good News From Jordan (12/21/07)

One hundred and thirty-five foreign guest workers at the Cotton Craft factory in Jordan--who were routinely cheated of their overtime pay--are each now receiving hundreds of dollars in back wages legally due them.  Needless to say, these poor guest workers who never expected to win are not only overjoyed but inspired to continue their struggle for justice.


Click here to read the written plea for help signed by 123 Cotton Craft Workers   

Click here to see the agreement signed by the Cotton Craft workers and management

Click here to view the labels produced at Cotton Craft

Further Background/History