Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Victorian Exploitation without borders

TOMORROW is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, and today I am going to the Houses of Parliament at Westminster to assist in a lobby of MPs. Coming just after the 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration (on which I have an article in the latest issue of Jewish Socialist), as well as the 60th anniversary of the UN vote for partition, and with Israeli and Arab leaders supposedly talking peace in Annapolis while Israel maintains its siege on Gaza with British compliance, this is an appropriate time and place for lobbying.

I saw my own local MP in the lobby last year, and talked to him particularly about what was happening to people in Gaza. He nodded agreement, took notes, and invited me to send more information. So far as as I can see he has done nothing about it. But still we persist, though today I will be mainly helping other lobbyers, and tomorrow maybe have something to write about it. Incidentally I was pleased the other night to see an item on television news about Arab workers, including kids, being exploited in Israeli West Bank settlements, harvesting dates which are put on sale in British supermarkets labelled "Made in Israel".

Meanwhile Palestinian farmers have seen their own lands seized, or been prevented from working them by the wall, or been stopped from getting their produce to market by military roadblocks. But nobody calls that a boycott, nor are we supposed to make a connection between the destruction of Palestinian economy and people being forced to become cheap labour..

Meanwhile, I looked over the river Jordan, and what did I see, but another story of oppression. While working people are shoved around, controlled, and called a "problem", capital goes freely around the world looking for workers to exploit and governments to give tax breaks and keep the workers in order. That includes companies trading on their fun and fashion image, especially in the 'festive season' An American colleague has passed me this message:

Subject: Ask Victoria's Secret to stop its abuse of foreign guest workers in Jordan
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2007 17:27:09 -0500 (EST)
From: National Labor Committee

This holiday season ask Victoria's Secret to stop its abuse of foreign guest workers in Jordan and to immediately free six Victoria's Secret workers imprisoned under trumped-up charges.
D.K. Garments, Al Hasan Industrial CityIrbid, Jordan.

D.K. Garments is a subcontract factory with 150 foreign guest workers (135 from Bangladesh and 15 from Sri Lanka), which has been producing Victoria's Secret garments for the last year. None of the workers have been provided their necessary residency permits, without which they cannot venture outside the industrial park without fear of being stopped by the police and perhaps imprisoned for lack of proper documents.

The Victoria's Secret workers toil 14 to 15 hours a day, from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., seven days a week, receiving on average one day off every three or four months. All overtime is mandatory, and workers are routinely at the factory 98 to 105 hours a week while toiling 89 to 96 hours. Treatment is very rough, as managers and supervisors scream at the foreign guest workers to move faster to complete their high production goals.

Workers who fall behind on their production goals, or who make even a minor error, can be slapped and beaten. Despite being forced to work five or more overtime hours a day, the workers are routinely shortchanged on their legal overtime pay, being cheated of up to $18.48 each week in wages due them. While this might not seem like a great deal of money, to these poor workers it is the equivalent of losing three regular days' wages each week.

Workers are allowed just 3.3 minutes to sew each $14 Victoria's Secret women's bikini, for which they are paid four cents. The workers' wages amount to less than 3/10ths of one percent of the $14 retail price of the Victoria's Secret bikini.

The workers are housed in primitive dorms which have only irregular access to water. During winter months, when the temperatures can drop to freezing, the workers' dorms have neither heat nor hot water. Many workers fall ill from the constant cold.


In early November 2007, when a new style of Victoria's Secrets women's underwear arrived, management set a mandatory production goal of 2,800 pieces per 10-hour shift for each assembly line of 22 sewers. It was almost impossible to reach this goal, as the workers were allowed just five minutes to sew each garment. Then on November 11, management suddenly increased the production goal to 4,000 pieces in 10 hours, an increase of 1,200 garments--or 43 percent more--with no increase in wages. Now, in effect, each worker would have to sew 18.2 garments an hour, or one every 3.3 minutes, which was impossible.

The workers protested the sudden, arbitrary increase. They wanted to speak with management, to explain how such an extreme production goal was not only unjust, but impossible to achieve.Management responded by having six of the most outspoken workers protesting the sudden production goal increase imprisoned--apparently on trumped-up charges.

The Following Workers Have Been Imprisoned Since November 11, 2007Mr. Kamal Factory ID # 467Mr. Farook Factory ID # 553Mr. Motin Factory ID # 589Mr. Delwar Factory ID # 563Mr. Mostafa Factory ID # 544Mr. Shohel Factory ID # 505

The workers begged management to free their unjustly imprisoned friends and co-workers. Management refused and the workers stopped working at 10:30 a.m. on November 12. The strike continues.

The owner of the factory is now threatening to have all the guest workers forcibly deported back to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The owner says food and water will be cut off and following that, the workers will be forcibly removed from the dorms.

The workers paid anywhere from $1,500 to over $3,000 to purchase three-year work contracts in Jordan--an enormous amount of money in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Workers had to go deeply into debt, borrowing the money on the informal market, often at five to ten percent interest per month, If the workers are deported, they will never be able to pay off their debts, and they and their families will be ruined.

BACKGROUND:I. 14 to 15 Hour Shifts / Seven Days a Week(Workers at the factory 98 to 105 hours a week)
7:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. (Work, 5 1/2 hours)
12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m. (Lunch, 1 hour)
1:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. (Work, 5 hours)
6:30 p.m. - 6:45 p.m. (Break, 15 minutes)
6:45 p.m. - 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. (Work, 2 1/4 to 3 1/4 hours)

II. 75 Cent-an-hour Minimum Wage
75 cents an hour
$5.97 a day (8 hours)
$35.84 a week (48 hours)
$155.30 a month
$1,863.62 a year

III. The legal regular work week is eight hours a day, six days a week, for a total of 48 hours. All weekday overtime must be paid at a 25 percent premium, or 93 cents an hour. Work on Friday's--the Muslim holiday--must be paid at a 50 percent premium, or $1.12 an hour.On average D.K. Garments foreign guest workers are forced to work 5 1/4 overtime hours each weekday in addition to 13 1/4 overtime hours on Friday, the weekly day off. Each day the workers are being shortchanged of 2 3/4 hours' overtime pay legally due them, or $18.48 a week. In effect, this is the equivalent of losing three days' regular pay each week, which is an enormous amount of money for these poor workers.

Please write The Limited/Victoria's Secret and urge them to respect workers rights in Jordan.
[Write to the person / address below; edit the sample text as appropriate.]

Leslie Wexner, CEOLimited Brands Inc.3 Limited Pkwy. Columbus, Ohio 43230 United States
Phone: (614) 415-7000 Fax: (614) 415-7080 E-mail:

Dear Mr. Wexner,
Please stop the abuse of Victoria's Secret's foreign guest workers at the D.K. Garments plant in Irbid, Jordan, and immediately release six workers imprisoned under trumped up charges.

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At 4:47 PM, Blogger Madam Miaow said...


Charlie, I'm sticking this up on my blog with credit and link to you.

Hope that's OK with you.

Could you also write something reminding us why Marx & Spark is a no, no? Lately, I find myself tempted to lapse - I need a good talking to.



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