Better Work Jordan releases 2021 annual report on garment industry and factory compliance during COVID-19 pandemic

26 Apr 2021

AMMAN, Jordan—The Better Work Jordan (BWJ) Programme released its 12th Annual Report, providing an update on the state and progress of the garment industry in Jordan, including COVID-19 impacts on the sector. The pandemic has caused a 15% drop in garment exports in Jordan, resulting in an economic downturn.

The report adds that garment exports in 2020 were valued at USD 1.6 billion and made up to 22 per cent of all exports in Jordan, according to the National Department of Statistics (DOS). At the same time, COVID-19 has exposed some considerable weaknesses in the industry. Some Better Work-enrolled factories had severe violations, such as forced labour, inaccurate and late payment of wages, and reductions in the number of meals provided to workers, the report shows. The pressures of COVID-19 have increased instances of non-compliance in some significant areas, and workers’ health has been affected by virus infection.

Throughout, Better Work has continued its programme to improve social dialogue and mental well-being of garment workers.

The “Annual Report 2021: An Industry and Compliance Review” presents findings and observations from BWJ collaborations in the garment sector throughout 2020 and in select non-garment factories working with BWJ. The report draws from multiple data sources, such as assessment findings from unannounced compliance visits to factories, data BWJ collects during regular interactions with factories, and survey data gathered over the last year and a half from workers and managers.

As of December 2020, 88 factories were enrolled in BWJ: 42 direct exporters, 21 subcontractors, 21 satellite units, and four non-garment factories. Six factories closed permanently because of economic strain over the course of 2020, and some factories re-organized themselves or changed classification. According to payroll data gathered by the programme through December 2020, there were 65,026 workers in BWJ participating garment factories.

Overall, the compliance data covers 81 per cent of the factories currently participating in BWJ, offering a significant snapshot of progress and remaining challenges.

BWJ Project Advisory Committee (PAC) examined the report at a meeting on Wednesday, 7 April, and discussed challenges faced by the industry. The PAC is comprised of representatives from the Government of Jordan (Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Industry, Trade and Supply), employers, and workers.

COVID-19 impacts

The annual report communicates that the garment sector in Jordan has been spared the worst effects of the pandemic and resulting economic downturn, with only a 15 per cent reduction in exports, compared to other garment exporting countries worldwide that saw major contractions of 30 to 50 per cent.

That said, the pandemic has had a monetary and human impact in Jordan. Over 6,000 employees (workers and managers) were infected with COVID-19 as of February 2021 across 46 factories.

Mental health and social dialogue

The annual report also highlights BWJ’s role in supporting the mental well-being of workers, especially migrants and women, through a two-year project.

The new Mental Health Project focuses on building resiliency and knowledge among workers, improving support systems and engagement at the factory level, and linking to the national mental health referral system.

The pandemic’s economic disruptions led to worker unrest and exposed weak systems of social dialogue at the factory level, especially in the areas of grievance and dispute handling, the report finds, emphasising that dialogue is a cornerstone of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) approach to resolving workplace problems. In 2021, BWJ and the Ministry of Labour plan to focus on improving social dialogue, so that management can address these issues proactively.

The report describes how BWJ set up Performance Improvement Consultative Committees (PICCs) in factories and used these committees as an essential part of social dialogue and the advisory process to bring together both managers and workers to find solutions for addressing non-compliance violations.

Respecting worker needs

BWJ is moving into several thematic areas that go beyond traditional views of non-compliance and look at issues facing workers and the sector more holistically. These areas include prevention of sexual harassment and gender-based violence, which has been a long-standing priority of BWJ. The programme and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) are implementing a project in Al Hassan Industrial Zone to improve worker, supervisor and manager knowledge and systems for addressing gender-based violence.

Other areas of focus are BWJ efforts to enhance and expand worker dormitories (36 per cent of factories did not meet the minimum space requirements for dorms) and facilitate the ongoing transition to digital wages. BWJ is developing a new strategy that emphasizes ensuring sustainability and profitability for the sector and its workers over the next 10 years.

Better Work Jordan is a partnership between the ILO and the IFC. The ILO flagship programme brings together stakeholders from all levels of the global garment manufacturing industry to improve working conditions, enhance respect for labour rights, and boost competitiveness. The programme began operations at the request of the governments of Jordan and the United States Department of Labor over a decade ago.

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