Friday, October 22, 2010

The Canada-Jordan FTA - a licence for human trafficking

On Monday the International Trade Committee heard devastating evidence from two witnesses warning that the Canada-Jordan Free Trade Act will merely provide cover for human trafficking and primarily benefit only China and large multinationals like Walmart and Kmart.

Tim Waters, Political Director of United Steelworkers :
"The U.S.-Jordan trade deal immediately descended into the trafficking of tens of thousands of foreign workers to Jordanian factories."
Waters said he had been a champion of passing the US-Jordan FTA in the mistaken belief that it would benefit both US and Jordanian workers and level the international playing field on tarriffs. Instead, on visiting Jordan, he found almost no Jordanians working in the factories there; over 90%, some 30,000+ workers, are all imported.

Factory owners from India, Sri Lanka, and China imprison 'guest' workers from Bangladesh, China, India, Nepal, and the Philippines in compounds in Jordan where they are worked from 12 to 18 hours a day seven days a week in appalling conditions under constant threat of rape, beatings, and deportation.

Locked up after having their passports confiscated at the airport, these indentured labourers have no recourse to the law - despite Lib Scott Brison, FTA pointman for the Cons once again, echoed by Lib Martha Hall Findlay once again, laughably touting the FTA in the House as ensuring :
"following the precedent set by the U.S.-Jordan FTA ... the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour, and the elimination of discrimination."
Moreover, said Waters, although human rights provisions embedded in the core of the US bill were ignored in Jordan despite the US wielding the big stick of foreign aid, the similar but weaker Canadian safeguards stand to be even less enforceable as they are only part of a side agreement to Bill C-8.

Gosh, another dubious LibroCon labour rights side agreement - just like Brison's previous precious - the Canada-Colombia FTA.

Waters begged the committee members not to make the same mistake in trusting foreign corporations based in Jordan to police their own human and labour rights standards, a decision his union "deeply regrets". It simply does not work, he said.

Charles Kernaghan, U.S. National Labor Committee executive director :

"When the workers signed their three-year contract to go to Jordan, they were told they'd get free food, free health care, free housing --all of it decent. That is not true.

We've seen that with a Canadian apparel company, the Nygard company. It was producing at a factory called International British Garments. In April, when we investigated that factory, 1,200 workers had been stripped of their passports. They were working from 7 in the morning until 11 at night: 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. For the 110 hours of time they were at the factory, they were paid less than half of the minimum wage. They faced sexual harassment, filthy dormitories, and bedbugs."

On top of all that they are charged for their food and have no access to medical attention.

The response to this testimony was about what we've come to expect from this committee.
Liberal MP and moral idiot John Cannis :
"What you're saying is that it's okay if the rest of the world goes and puts on paper firm guidelines and agrees to the wording, and it's firm and it's strong and so on, and says, “Canada, you continue being the boy scout, and we'll continue doing business”.
Waters :
"With all due respect, I don't think that argument holds, simply because you can't say that since everybody else is wrong and everybody else is doing it, then we should too. Had we [United Steelworkers] known what was going to happen, we never would have supported this, okay? We supported it only because we took the deal at face value."
He went on to say that aside from the garment-producing multinationals, the other beneficiary of slave labour in Jordan is China - where the fabric is imported from.
"The U.S.-Jordan free trade agreement actually benefited China more than anyone else: we estimate about $100 million a year in tariff breaks for their textiles to enter the United States. ... By contrast, benefits to US workers were negligible."
Con Gerald Keddy pretends to miss the point that the US-Jordan FTA labour regs are being entirely ignored along with Jordan's own labour laws, and goes with the "mistakes were made" defence :

"You can't come to us and tell us we have to change the rules. Under our agreement on labour cooperation, we have put some very strict guidelines in this agreement. This does not apply simply to Jordanian workers; it also applies to migrant workers and migrant labour. It is under the International Labour Organization's international guidelines and, quite frankly, it recognizes that some of the migrant worker regulatory regime in Jordan has been less than perfect, that there have been some abuses and some mistakes made ...

In our agreement we also have the ability to facilitate the dissemination of information--specifically labour information--to guest workers and migrant workers so that they actually do understand their rights."

Yeah, Keddy, that's the ticket. A pamphlet drop.

Kernaghan responds to Keddy :
"We asked the Jordanian government to allow NGOs in from the countries where the workers are from, from Bangladesh and from Sri Lanka--and that would be the single biggest element--so that the workers would have advocates. They flat out refused."

Con Ed Holder waxes interminably about all the wonderful benefits that will accrue for Canada, despite total trade in merchandise between Canada and Jordan standing at a measly $82 million.


"The benefit was for the garment producers in Jordan to have duty-free access into the U.S. market. 86% of the exports from Jordan to the United States are garments. They're at the table here because they want the same duty-free access to the Canadian marketplace that they have to the U.S. marketplace."

Bill C-8, the Canada-Jordan FTA, passed second reading in the House on Sept 27 and is well on its way to being blessed into law by the ConservaLiberal coalition. The International Trade Committee consists of 6 Cons, 3 Libs, 2 Bloc, and 1 NDP, with all 3 Libs having pledged to support it.

Irony Alert : Yesterday Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced proposed legislation to crack down on human trafficking in Canada.


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