- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

Jordan’s sweatshops

Jordan’s trade minister spent much of his visit to Washington defending his country against charges that the kingdom allows substandard labor conditions in its garment factories, one of the country’s primary industries for export to the United States.

Sharif al Zu’bi said Jordan is seriously concerned about abuses cited by the National Labor Committee, a New York-based group that exposes sweatshop conditions around the world. It recently reported on labor abuse in 28 garment factories in Jordan, which has about 100 apparel workshops.

“We are taking the report very seriously, and we are taking immediate steps to improve labor conditions and upgrade our monitoring mechanism,” he said at the conclusion of his two-day visit on Friday.

“We do not want to allow a few bad apples to ruin a decent and clean industry that has improved the lives of many Jordanians and guest workers.”

Many of the employees in Jordan’s garment industry are from Bangladesh and China.

Mr. Zu’bi said the report incorrectly identified three sweatshops that are not even in Jordan, and three others had been closed before the report was released last month. The Jordanian government formed nine inspection teams to investigate the entire garment trade in the country, he said.

“We are working closely with the International Labor Organization, U.S. labor committees, the U.S. Trade Representative, the State Department, as well as U.S. and Jordanian apparel companies to address the labor-related challenges and to improve our monitoring system,” he said.

Mr. Zu’bi met with administration officials and members of Congress to discuss Jordan’s labor conditions and to review the benefits of the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement. Jordan’s exports to the United States have increased twentyfold under the pact.

He said the agreement has made Jordan an attractive location for many multinational firms and benefited 55,000 Jordanian and foreign workers. Mr. Zu’bi said Jordan’s challenge is to diversify its exports beyond the dominant clothing trade.

“We are already seeing more activity in both the jewelry and electronics industries,” he said.

Euros vs. Yanks

Most soccer matches are low-scoring affairs or even ties, as in the U.S.-Italian showdown last week in the World Cup tournament.

However, when it came to the much-lesser-known Transatlantic Soccer Cup between European diplomats and congressional staffers and State Department bureaucrats, the Euros stomped — perhaps even embarrassed — the Yanks 6-0 in one match earlier this month in Washington.

Although Argentina last week crushed Serbia by that amount in the World Cup, a 6-0 score is rare in a game often won by one or two goals.

“The EU embassies undiplomatically defeated staffers from Congress 6-0,” said Carla Bundy, a press officer at the Royal Netherlands Embassy.

The team included diplomats from the embassies of Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Romania and from the office of the European Union against congressional staffers from the offices of Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, and Reps. Tom Lantos and Grace F. Napolitano, both California Democrats.

The Europeans dispatched the State Department team 3-0 during the June 10 tournament at St. Albans School.

The Europeans were good sports and even gave the Americans trophies, despite their losses.

The Royal Netherlands Embassy, which organized the tournament, plans to make the Transatlantic Cup an annual competition.

Diplomatic barbecue

Japan still maintains a ban on American beef, but no one feared mad cow disease over the weekend at the annual barbecue at the Japanese ambassador’s residence.

“Yes, it’s American beef,” one Japanese diplomat said with a laugh.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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