READOUT: Deputy Undersecretary Lee visits Jordan to meet labor officials, stakeholders; reflects on country’s 20 years of labor rights advances
WASHINGTON – In the first visit to Jordan by a senior U.S. Department of Labor official in more than two decades, Deputy Undersecretary of Labor for International Affairs Thea Lee met with government officials, and labor union and business leaders for discussions on how the two nations can cooperatively help strengthen workers’ rights in the Middle East kingdom.
During the visit from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, Deputy Undersecretary Lee joined with the Jordanian Secretary General of Labor Farouq Al-Hadidi and others, and emphasized the past progress by the country in improving protections for its economy’s garment industry workers, including migrant workers.
Jordan’s leaders renewed their country’s commitment to ensuring that garment supply chains are free from labor abuses, including dangerous and unhealthy working conditions. The U.S. and Jordan also discussed the importance of greater inclusion of women in the national economy and protecting workers’ rights – such as freedom of association and collective bargaining – to foster decent work standards and sustainable livelihoods.
The two-day visit was the first by a senior department official since the 2001 enactment of the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement and highlighted the importance of transparency and respect for worker rights in the garment sector and beyond. Officials discussed the clear connection between protecting workers’ rights and attracting foreign investment and creating good jobs. Since 2001, trade in Jordan’s garment sector has increased 800 percent.
“Jordan’s commitment in the last decades to transparently combat harassment and forced labor, and promote greater worker representation creates a strong basis for future progress,” said Deputy Undersecretary of Labor for International Affairs Thea Lee. “Efforts like these are central to the Biden-Harris administration’s worker-centered trade policy. We look forward to maintaining positive momentum so that workers in both countries, through independent and democratic unions, can collectively bargain for decent jobs and good working conditions.”
The kingdom’s efforts have been assisted by the department-funded Better Work program, a collaboration between the United Nation’s International Labour Organization and the International Finance Corp. that brings together garment industry stakeholders to improve working conditions and respect of labor rights and boost the competitiveness of apparel businesses.
While in Jordan, Deputy Undersecretary Lee joined officials from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to convene the Labor Subcommittee to review implementation of the free trade agreement’s Labor Article. The committee heard directly from workers and companies in Jordan’s industrial zones that make garments destined for U.S. markets. The employees and employers discussed improvements to working conditions and the challenges that remain.