Action Alert — May 10, 2006

NAFTA Expansion to Oman Heading to Congress Despite U.S. State Department Reports of Human Trafficking in Oman — Act Now!

Send an urgent letter to Congress: Vote "no" on Oman Free Trade Agreement or bear responsibility for increasing human trafficking in the Middle Eastern country of Oman.

Dear Fair Trade Supporter,

Just when you thought the Bush trade policy could not get crazier, the administration has sprung a new "trade" deal on Congress — a NAFTA expansion to the Middle Eastern Sultanate of Oman. Oman is an oppressive monarchy that forbids independent labor unions and has been listed by the U.S. State Department for human trafficking, for severe restrictions on freedom of the press, and for harassing human rights activists.[1]

We urgently need you to contact your representative to demand that he or she vote "no" on the outrageous U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement (OFTA). This deal has all the disgusting provisions of CAFTA — special protections for Big Pharma, new protections for Big Oil — but worse, it would provide further incentives for human trafficking. Trafficking is already rife among the hundreds of thousands of foreign guest workers brought on indenture contracts from Bangladesh, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and other impoverished countries.

Please contact Congress now and urge your representative to oppose the outrageous U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement.

Last week, the New York-based National Labor Committee released a 160-page expose on the terrifying labor conditions for Asian "guest workers" in similar factories in the Middle Eastern Kingdom of Jordan. There, Chinese, Omani and other foreign-owned sweatshops have been set up to exploit the privileged access into the U.S. market made possible by the first NAFTA expansion to the Middle East, the 2001 U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement. Under the Jordan NAFTA expansion, "guest workers" who are abused with impunity produce clothes for sale by U.S. retailers like Wal-Mart and Target.[2]

The report — U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement Descends Into Human Trafficking — documents pervasive slave-labor conditions and human trafficking among Jordan's 25,000 foreign "guest workers." The undercover investigation reveals how the U.S.-Jordan FTA — a deal with stronger labor rights provisions than the Oman deal — has caused a major expansion in horrific sweatshops. Asian workers take on huge debts at home to buy the right to work for promised wages in Jordan that are never paid. If they dare to complain about the lack of wages and food or the regular beatings — or collapse during 36 hour work shifts — they are deported home to a life of fleeing from the indenture contract that they can never pay off.

According to the exposé, which was profiled in a lengthy New York Times article [3], workers sewing for Wal-Mart are routinely forced to work 16, 24, 36 and even 72-hour shifts for an average wage of two cents an hour. We've included at the bottom of this email a summary of the findings of the report and a link to the news story.

Despite the devastating results of the U.S.-Jordan FTA, the Bush administration wants to expand this sweatshop model to the Sultanate of Oman — a country where a majority of private-sector workers are powerless foreign "guest workers." What's more, the proposed U.S.-Oman deal doesn't even include the Jordan deal's meager labor protections [4], even though the Sultan of Oman decreed in 2003 that workers cannot form independent unions.

Contact Congress NOW to stop this outrageous Oman NAFTA expansion and to demand justice for the workers in the Jordanian sweatshops created because of U.S. trade policy.

After Congress passed an expansion of NAFTA to Central America (CAFTA) last year by a razor-thin one-vote margin, scandalous human rights abuses and massive protests have led to NAFTA expansion in many countries being put on the backburner. South Africa literally called off negotiations after the Bush administration insisted it was either NAFTA expansion or no deal.

Now, the Bush administration is trying to revive its "free trade" agenda by pushing this disgraceful Oman deal as a "foreign policy" initiative. Trying to convince the half of the U.S. Congress that opposed CAFTA, the administration is saying that we need this deal to reward a "friendly" Middle Eastern country. Yet, the Jordan deal shows just what can happen when the United States makes special trade deals with undemocratic regimes. This mistake should not be repeated with Oman!

The powerful Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives is holding their "mark-up" of the legislation for this Oman deal today, so we need to act quickly.

Please write to Congress now to say "No" to more inhumane deals like the U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement.

Thank you for all that you do,

The Global Trade Watch Team

U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement Descends Into Human Trafficking
Tens of Thousands of Foreign Guest Workers Stripped of their Passports and Trapped in Involuntary Servitude
A Report by the National Labor Committee, released May 5, 2006

Read the full report
Read the article in the New York Times about the Report's Findings

Summary of findings:

  • Since 2000, when the United States and Jordan signed a "free trade" agreement, Jordan's apparel exports to the United States have soared 2,000 percent, reaching $1.1 billion in 2005. For years, gross, systematic violations of worker rights have gone on in broad daylight.
  • There are at least 48,000 garment workers in Jordan and more than 25,000 are foreign "guest workers." The totals could be much higher since record keeping in Jordan is poor and dated. Guest workers are from Bangladesh, China, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
  • Most of the garment factories in Jordan exporting duty-free to the U.S. are foreign-owned, with investment from China, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, India, and Oman. The Big Winner is China: More than 60 percent of the value of the garments entering the U.S. duty-free from Jordan are made up of fabric from China.

All across Jordan, it is common for guest workers to be at the factory over 100 hours each week, while they are being cheated of upwards of half the wages legally due them. Not one guest worker is paid the legal minimum wage. Nor do guest workers receive the legal overtime premium. Workers asking for back wages owed them could be imprisoned. This is occurring even though the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement contained labor rights provisions that were considered an improvement on the NAFTA-CAFTA standard.

  • Beatings are common. Workers are shoved, slapped and punched for making mistakes, falling behind in their production goals or using the bathroom too often.
  • Workers are housed under primitive dorm conditions, with 8 to 10 people sharing each 10-foot by 10-foot room. The dorms often lack running water up to three and four days a week, making it impossible to bathe.
  • Many workers say they feel like slaves. Some workers are trying to escape, leaving their passports behind, hiding by day and running by night in an attempt to cross the border out of Jordan.

Send your letter to Congress here:

[1] There are no known Oman-based human rights organizations and the government recently denied a request to establish a domestic human rights center. The U.S. State Department also documents reports of arbitrary arrest; restrictions on the exercise of civil liberties and freedom of speech (including academic freedom), the press, assembly, and privacy; discrimination and domestic violence against women; and restrictions on labor rights. See On human trafficking, see Trafficking in Persons Report, released by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, June 3, 2005.
[2] National Labor Committee, U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement Descends Into Human Trafficking
[3] Steven Greenhouse and Michael Barbaro, "An Ugly Side of Free Trade: Sweatshops in Jordan," New York Times, May 3, 2006.
[4] U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement: Report of the Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy, Nov. 15, 2005. (PDF)

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