Debt Bondage, Serial Rape Dominates Factory Supplying Walmart, Macy's and Target

by Amanda Kloer 2011-06-22 09:13:00 UTC

Two horrific realities dominate the lives of the women who make clothing for Walmart, Macy's, Target, Kohl's, and Hanes Brand at the Classic Fashion factory in Jordan. The first is that the manager may decide to rape them at his house, which he does with impunity. The second is that after being raped, they'll still have to work for him, because they are trapped in debt bondage. Yet despite the horror the women of the Classic factory face, none of the brands who profit from their work have intervened to stop the sexual assault and debt bondage they live through each day.

Earlier this year, the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights released a report detailing the widespread abuses suffered by the primarily Sri Lankan, Indian, and Bangladeshi women working at the Classic Fashion factory in Jordan. The report claims every Friday Anil Santha, the factory's general manager, transports several young women to his home, where he molests and rapes them. Women who refuse his advances are beaten or deported. This record of serial sexual abuse is so well-known, that in 2010, 2,400 of the workers went on strike, demanding Santha's removal. He was barred for a month, but now has returned to enjoy his job and the variety of vulnerable women available to him.

Suffering such prolonged and outrageous sexual abuse is terrible, but to literally add insult to injury, many of the women of Classic Fashion are forced to remain in their jobs after being raped because they are trapped in debt bondage. Here's why: foreign workers will often purchase a contract at Classic, for three years, incurring debt for the opportunity to work. Often, their immigration status is tied to this contract. So if they anger the boss (say, by refusing sexual advances), they can be fired, deported, and forced to repay a large debt without a job -- all in an instant.

The debt bondage also means women are less likely to complain about the terrible conditions and limited freedom at Classic. Women are housed in a bedbug-infested dorm without heat or hot water and limited to a measly two bathroom breaks during a 13 hour shift. And unlike their male counterparts who are free to leave the work/living compound after their shift, women may only leave once a week on Fridays, for six hours.

It's under these conditions that women sew the clothing available at Walmart, Target, Kohl's, Macy's and Hanes Brand -- all brands which market and cater to a strong base of female shoppers. That's why the National Labor Committee is asking women (and men!) who don't want their shirts, shorts, and dresses made by women facing sexual assault and debt bondage to ask Walmart, Target, Macy's and the other brands who source from Classic to set up systems to prevent sexual assault and ensure women are free to leave their jobs. Will you support them?


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