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From policy to practice: A new garment sector alliance in Jordan will create opportunities for refugees

3 Apr 2017

3 April 2017.

Amman – A new garment sector-wide alliance in Jordan aims to create economic opportunities, improve the lives of refugees caught up in the Syrian crisis and help their host countries. The initiative, led by partners from the international community, was first set in motion at last year’s Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London.

Backed by the World Bank Group, the Jordan Garment Sector Alliance has been formed by various partners including the International Labour Organization, Better Work Jordan, the Jordan Investment Commission, the Jordan Industrial Estates Company, the Jordan Garments, Accessories, and Textiles Exporters’ Association (JGate) and the Jordan Chamber of Industry and Trade. These partners have come together to design effective programmes that translate the policies contained in the Jordan Compact—the conference’s final document—into practice.

Back in London, Jordan agreed to implement ambitious measures aimed at creating 200,000 jobs over the coming years.

The country is currently hosting more than 650,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations’ refugee agency, 80 per cent of whom live in host communities. But the total number could be higher since the country’s recent census showed some 1.3 million Syrians living in the country.

The garment industry is seen as one of the sectors that can absorb both refugees and the local workforce since work is labour-intensive and more than half of its 70,000 workers already come from abroad, mostly hailing from South and South-East Asia.

Jordan’s 1.6 billion USD apparel industry accounts for some 20 per cent of the country’s exports, said JGATE chairman Husam Saleh at a recent alliance meeting in Amman, stressing that the industry had registered a six per cent increase in apparel exports year on year.

New economic opportunities, arising from the recent trade agreements that allow Jordan to export products to Europe tariff free for a ten-year time span, might also give an employment boost to the sector.

Deputy Secretary General for Technical Affairs at the Ministry of Labour Haitham Khasawneh expressed this view.

“The garment industry is one of the sectors that can create jobs for Syrians as well as Jordanians. We have already created new jobs in the country’s rural areas. Other sectors don’t generate as many jobs as this sector does,” he said at a meeting following discussions among the members of the alliance in Jordan and the UK.

Still, challenges have emerged when trying to attract Syrians to the sector. The Jordan Garment Sector Alliance must ensure consolidation of the garment sector through advocacy, growth of local employment and an increase in compliance, and also now play a crucial role helping bring a new refugee workforce to the industry.

“The idea is to try to create a programme where all different partners get together to create opportunities for both Jordanians and refugees,” said Benjamin Herzberg, Program Lead at the  Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions Vice-Presidency of the World Bank Group, at the meeting. “We need to work not only on matching the Jordanian suppliers with global purchasers, and on coordinating market actors, but also  on labour market connectivity, to make sure both the Jordanians and the Syrian refugees understand what it is like to work in a garment factory, in order to attract them to join it.”

The official also suggested repeating the successful model of “satellite factories” for Jordanians—branches of large companies scattered across the country’s rural areas — for Syrians, establishing them next to refugee camps, for example.

“We and Better Work are looking at factory floor compliance and see lots of progress. The Jordan Garment industry was removed from the US TVPRA forced labour list, and now, both workers and global brands know that when they come here in Jordan, they will find relatively good conditions, people are treated well, and there is a collective bargaining agreement in place. But there are always means to keep improving compliance of course, and the Jordan Garment Sector Alliance was set up, with our support, to do just that. It’s good for the industry, it’s good for Jordanians and it’s good for the refugees,” Herzberg said.

Jordan’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Supply Yaroub Al Quodah said the Jordan Garment Sector Alliance could make the difference.

“A fundamental factor for this sector is its ability to hire a large number of workers,” Al Quodah said at the meeting while calling on all the elements of the alliance to increase their integration to attract more foreign investment. “Investment would help the Jordanian work be recognized in the world economy and open different channels,” he said.

Mukhallad Omari, Secretary General of the Jordan Investment Commission (JIC) said that Jordan is still presenting itself as a destination for investment in the heart of the Middle East shrugging off the negative repercussions caused by the conflicts on its borders.

“As JIC, we pledge to remove all obstacles, legal and procedural, for investors, regardless if locals or foreigners, interested in doing business in Jordan to accomplish the alliance’s scope,” he added.

Better Work Jordan Programme Manager Tareq Abu Qaoud said that his joint UN-World Bank Group programme will provide the required support to increase the compliance of the sector and lend its technical expertise to the third renewal of the country’s collective bargaining agreement. This will contribute to the success of the integration of Syrian refugees within the local workforce and create more jobs for Jordanians.

“Better Work will continue its role of engaging with national as well international partners to keep improving the working and living conditions of the sector’s workers, building capacities for the national constituents and improve Jordan’s competitiveness within the global supply chain,” Abu Qaoud said.

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