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Retailers reacted to the latest allegations of sexual abuse and intimidation of female workers at a factory in Jordan, saying they continue to work with the Jordanian government and manufacturers in the country to ensure their suppliers comply with ethical working standards.
This story first appeared in the August 9, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The latest claims involve the Classic Brands factory, where the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights said it had learned of and is investigating another alleged rape. IGLHR director Charles Kernaghan called for Wal-Mart, Target, Macy’s and Hanes to pull their orders from the factory unless “the alleged rapist managers are fired and barred from returning.” The institute in June issued a report about the factory claiming sexual abuse of its workers.
“We may advise the American people against buying garments made in Jordan,” said Kernaghan. “In 25 years, we have never called for a boycott of a factory. We always said that cutting and running from a problem factory is the worst thing you can do because it just hurts the workers. Classic is one of the filthiest factories we’ve ever dealt with.”
According to the report, Classic Brands employs close to 5,000 people, mostly young women from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries, who are guest workers. Classic Brands is the largest factory exporting to the U.S. under the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement, the report said. A video on YouTube showed a woman named Kamala, whose face is completely covered by a large black scarf, describe her alleged rape at the hands of a Classic Brands manager, and the aftermath. Kernaghan said if the latest victim’s accusations are substantiated, a video interview of her story will be on YouTube in a month and a half.
“We are taking these claims seriously,” said Target Corp. “We continue to have frequent and close conversations with Hanes — a supplier that produces product for Target — to ensure that the allegations are investigated thoroughly. We are taking steps necessary to appropriately address any violations of Target’s Standards of Vendor Engagement to the extent any are identified during the course of the investigation.
“As stated in our Standards of Vendor Engagement, we will not knowingly work with any company that does not comply with our ethical standards,” Target added. “Our vendors must provide safe and healthy workplaces that comply with local laws.”
A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said, “We have partnered with the International Labor Organization’s Better Work Program in Jordan. On an ongoing basis, our ethical sourcing team meets with Better Work Program representatives and the Jordanian Ministry of Labor representatives to discuss the Better Work Program and how we can continue to help improve labor conditions in Jordan. We remain committed to sourcing merchandise that is produced in a responsible and ethical manner. Through our ongoing partnership with the ILO Better Work Program and continued collaboration with various stakeholders, we are addressing social and environmental issues in Jordan and continue to improve conditions for factory workers in Jordan and around the world.”
“We take very seriously the allegations made in this matter and have been monitoring the situation closely with our third-party supplier,” a Macy’s Inc. spokesman said. “The allegations have and are being investigated by independent organizations, including the Jordanian government, and at this point have been unsubstantiated. We continue to monitor this matter closely and are awaiting a final report.”