Some of the biggest names in American retail have been linked to a Jordanian garment factory that allegedly rapes, tortures, and abuses its female workers, according to a report by the Institute of Global Labour and Human Rights, formerly known as the National Labor Committee. In a petition on Change.org, the human-rights organization accuses supervisors at Classic Factory, which supplies clothing to Walmart, Target, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Hanes, and Land’s End, of sexually assaulting dozens of migrant workers from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, most of whom are virtually imprisoned in dilapidated surroundings. “We only went to Jordan to earn money to help our families,” says a young woman who goes by the name “Nazma” to protect her identity. “We had no idea that factory managers would rape so many of us young girls.”
The group’s findings are the result of six-month undercover effort, says Charles Kernaghan, its director and lead author of the study. “One young rape victim told us her assailant, a manager, bit her, leaving scars all over her body,” he says. “Women who become pregnant are forcibly deported and returned to Sri Lanka. Women who refuse the sexual advances of Classic‘s managers are also beaten and deported.”
“In addition to 13-hour shifts at the rate of 61 cents per hour, workers are “routinely cursed at, hit, and shortchanged of their wages.”
In addition to 13-hour shifts six or seven days a week, at the rate of 61 cents per hour, workers are “routinely cursed at, hit, and shortchanged of their wages” for failing to meet minimum production goals, according to eyewitness accounts. “To press the women to work faster, managers grope and fondle them,” Kernaghan adds. They’re also forced to live in bedbug-infested dormitories, without heat or hot water.
Although Jordan’s Ministry of Labor has been made aware of the allegations as early as 2007, he says, it has done nothing. Neither have the American corporations that continue to buy Classic clothing and claim no evidence of wrongdoing. “The minimal efforts of Walmart, Hanes, and the other labels to monitor factory conditions at Classic,” says Kernaghan, who wants the companies to immediately remove the accused perpetrators, compensate the victims, and enforce the worker’s rights laws in the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement.
“All we can do is cry,” Nazma says. “We ask the people who buy our garments, please end this abuse and torture we face. We should be able to work without fear of sexual assault.”