The New York Times ran a very disturbing story today about the mistreatment of workers in Jordanian factories that were established as part of the Qualified Industrial Zones or QIZs. The article claims that these factories are essentially sweatshops. Here in an excerpt:

Propelled by a free trade agreement with the United States, apparel manufacturing is booming in Jordan, its exports to America soaring twenty-fold in the last five years. But some foreign workers in Jordanian factories that produce garments for Target, Wal-Mart and other American retailers are complaining of dismal conditions — of 20-hour days, of not being paid for months and of being hit by supervisors and jailed when they complain.

An advocacy group for workers contends that some apparel makers in Jordan, and some contractors that supply foreign workers to them, have engaged in human trafficking. Workers from Bangladesh said they paid $1,000 to $3,000 to work in Jordan, but when they arrived, their passports were confiscated, restricting their ability to leave and tying them to jobs that often pay far less than promised and far less than the country’s minimum wage. Source: [New York Times]

I have to admit that I was extremely disturbed by this report, as the situation in these factories looks very similar — if not worse — than the status Asian workers suffer under in Gulf countries like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. I have a feeling that this report will not go unnoticed since there are a number of Jordanian officials quoted in the article — including the Jordanian ambassador in DC, Karim Kawar. I hope these revelations will prompt the Jordanian government to intervene and end the alleged worker abuse once and for all. I also find it disappointing that we have to read about this in an American newspaper and not a Jordanian one. Where are the journalists in Jordan? Does anyone dare to write such a report?

Meanwhile, Jordanian blogger Khalaf reports that the minimum wage in Jordan has been increased in Jordan. However, workers at the QIZ factories have been excluded from this increase. He says:

Zuhair Kayed, head of the higher council for population, says that 733,000 people in Jordan are living on less than a dinar a day. So, the dilemma is whether low paying jobs in sweatshops are better than not offering any economic opportunities for the poor at all. The implication is that the factories can easily be relocated to other countries with cheaper labor. Given the alternative, I would grudgingly go for providing choice for people. Fahed Fanek suggests that the owners of the clothing factories are overplaying their hand, and that they can afford to raise the wages of their workers in the country. If his math is correct, I don’t see why the government went along with deferring raising of wages in these factories.

Here are some reactions from the Jordanian blogosphere: What’s up in Jordan, and Ajnabiyeh.