Jordan’s garment industry: Migrating To Better Work

Jordan’s garment industry: Migrating To Better Work


A growing nation in the heart of the Middle
East, Jordan is an emerging economy undergoing a period of reform and building itself into
global supply chains. It has more free trade agreements than any
other country in the Arab world and the apparel industry is now one of its main industrial
sectors. The sector represents almost a third of Jordan’s
total exports and employs more than 43,000 workers. Exports to the US alone approach
a billion dollars. The apparel industries rapid success in Jordan
is not only interesting for the Jordanian economy and the world’s largest buyers of
clothing. It has also become a magnet for migrant workers. Two thirds of workers like these come from
places as far away as China, India and Sri Lanka to earn a living and support their families
back home. Guest workers are a distinct link in the global supply chain here. But rapid economic development creates conditions
that can challenge even the most basic labour standards. Phil Fishman is the Head of Better Work Jordan.
Established in 2007 it’s already running its unique programmes in a quarter of the
country’s garment factories. (Phil Fishman, Manager, Better Work Jordan)
A few years ago there was some controversy over conditions in the factories and the Ministry
of Labour developed a plan to improve labour standards in the factories and a major part
of that plan was to ask the ILO to come here to both monitor labour standards but also
to work with factories to improve them. Unlike most other countries most of the workers in
the apparel sector here come from other countries. They are guest workers who come to Jordan
just for the purpose of working in the apparel sector for a period of 3 to 5 years. (Sri Lanki Migrant Worker)
I’ve been working here for several years now and I plan to stay for two more years
to save money for the house I’m building in my home country. After I finish building
my house, I want to go back and be happy with my family. (Phil Fishman, Manager, Better Work Jordan)
That creates a unique set of issues for these workers and a certain kind of vulnerability
that they face that you don’t often find in many other countries. These workers come
to a country where they don’t often speak the language, they have a different ethnic
background, a different religion, and they’re here for one purpose and that’s to make
money, money they can send back to their families to help their families survive. So they’re
very vulnerable to exploitation They are fearful of being sent back to their home country thereby
losing their income so they’re hesitant to complain or to raise issues and their desire
to get out of debt and to help their families puts them in a position where they are willing
to tolerate treatment that most of us probably wouldn’t tolerate. By improving labour standards and competitiveness
the industry will also become a better place for Jordanian workers. (Nadia – Jordanian worker, Maliban)
I wish for the factory to develop more and for more Jordanians to leave unemployment
and join the staff. (Saeed – Jordanian worker, Maliban)
I would like it if more Jordanians come to work here. It would be a great opportunity
for them to develop their skills and improve their financial status. (Phil Fishman, Manager, Better Work Jordan)
From the point of view of Jordanian workers it creates some pressure on them because they
are often told that guest workers are willing to work 12- 14 -16 hours per day and the Jordanians
are asked why they’re not willing to work that many hours. There is growing evidence that better labour
standards go hand-in-hand with better business. One of the country’s garment businesses
is Maliban. It spotted the commercial opportunity in Jordan and understood that it’s responsibilities
to its workers extended beyond offering jobs. (Attulah Edirisinghe, CEO, Maliban)
Maliban looked at different countries to make investments in their globalization process
and evaluated evidence in many countries and Jordan came best out of the lot.
Now the factories realize that for them to discipline themselves and also to deliver
a better relationship between the employer and employee, Better Work Jordan can play
a very important role. The programme’s success – like all Better
Work programmes – is dependent on its ability to build long-standing working relationships
with different, sometimes competing, interests. (Fathallah Omrani, President, Textile Trade
Union) Our union is supportive of Better Work Jordan
since it provides the ground work for what we do. It paves the way for us to have a higher
reach in the factories and helps improve worker’s conditions and productivity. The union and
BWJ are working towards the same goals since we both aim towards improving workers’ conditions,
help workers form unions and improve living standards. The external view of a country’s labour
standards – and the exposure of the world’s largest buyers to criticism – has become a
major driving force for change. (HE Dr Ghazi Shbeikat, Minister of Labour)
The project is an important tool to the Ministry to ensure compliance in these areas and to
ensure adherence to the labour law – it also helps ensure that we are in compliance
with international labour standards. A ground breaking part of Better Work’s
programme is to facilitate better worker representation in factories. Workers now have the opportunity
to independently elect their colleagues who will represent their issues to the factory
management with the support of their union. (HE Dr Ghazi Shbeikat, Minister of Labour)
Workers and factory owners are part of the process. It is for the benefit of the workers
to have such a programme in Jordan. The workers are actually involved in the process. They
elect workers to be involved in the process of assessment. For many workers here, it is the first democratic
opportunity in which they’ve participated. The first introduction to the idea that they
have some control over their future. (Phil Fishman, Manager, Better Work Jordan)
When you say improving labour standards what you are really saying is improving people’s
lives. If labour standards here can be improved you could actually see measurable improvement
in their daily lives, you could see them being a little more happy, you could see them sending
a little more money home to their families, you can see them working in safer conditions,
you can see them feeling some hope that they can improve their lives and all this is very
exciting, and that’s what we’re all about. There is a lot of optimism about Better Work’s
potential and – following the successes of the last 18 months – there is a possibility
that participation in Better Work will become obligatory for all garment factories. (Mr Attulah Edirisinghe, CEO, Maliban Factory)
During the last year we are seeing that companies are accepting joining Better Work and internally
they are developing themselves and I believe that the apparel industry is an industry which
is developing world over and Better Work playing a partnership between the factories and with
the buyers it will grow from strength to strength. Better Work believes that the success in the
apparel industry could also be extended into other major industrial sectors. (Phil Fishman, Manager, Better Work Jordan)
Our hope would be that our coverage would be for the whole industry in Jordan and that
our work together with our stakeholders will actually have a positive impact. So we have
a plan to see if we could go beyond the apparel sector in the next few years. A commitment to improving labour standards
along global supply chains is not a short term task but programmes like Better Work
already show how much can be done with the right level of support. (Phil Fishman, Manager, Better Work Jordan)
Better Work is committed to wherever we are. On the part of all our stakeholders I think
the support that we’ve had from factories has been exciting, we have consistent support
from international buyers who buy garments that are made here, we work closely with the
trade union and the trade union is a key stakeholder in what we’re doing and finally the Jordanian
government who understands that the work we’re doing is to the benefit of the country and
the benefit of its people. We are so committed to Jordan because Jordan has been so committed
to us.

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