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WASHINGTON — Workers at a Jordanian factory that produced bikinis and underwear for Victoria’s Secret under a subcontract are allegedly being threatened with forced deportation after striking to protest the imprisonment of six co-workers, according to a report from the National Labor Committee.
The watchdog group said the six workers were imprisoned on “trumped-up charges” after they spoke out against increased production demands at D.K. Garments, where the 150 employees from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka toil long hours in poor conditions. The workers’ production goal was increased by 43 percent this month to 4,000 pieces in a 10-hour shift for 22 sewers, the NLC said.
“This case to us seemed very extreme,” said Charles Kernaghan, director of the NLC. “We had to move quickly.”
The group said workers were slapped and beaten, not paid their full overtime pay and labored from 7 a.m. to as late as 10 p.m., seven days a week with one day off every three or four months. Dorms for the workers have irregular access to water and no heat or hot water.
The strike began Nov. 12 and the factory owner is now threatening to cut off the workers’ food and water and force deportation, said the NLC, adding the workers paid up to $3,000 to purchase three-year work contracts in Jordan and will go deeply into debt if they return to their home countries.
Factories in Jordan can get duty free access to the U.S. market under the Jordan Free Trade Agreement and a system of Qualified Industrial Zones under an Israel-U.S. trade deal.
A May 2006 NLC report revealed a variety of labor abuses of foreign workers and led to an official investigation that also found labor abuses. As a result, the country added labor inspectors and gave factories incentives to comply with standards.
“There are a lot of problems, but the big issues of human trafficking and workers being held in involuntary servitude have been much improved,” said Kernaghan. “It seems to me the government’s doing something quite positive, but maybe the message is not strong enough. There is no doubt that there are continuing problems. We’re getting two or three calls [from Jordan] a week, at a minimum.”
This story first appeared in the November 28, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Samer Naber, legal officer at Jordan’s embassy in Washington, said the allegations would “be fully and fairly investigated in accordance with Jordanian law and the findings will be made publicly available.” Naber said the country is continuing its work to improve labor conditions.
Limited Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret, declined to comment.