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Cablegate: Qiz Garment Factories in Jordan: Stitching a New

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZs) in
Jordan have created thousands of semi-skilled industrial
jobs, attracted foreign investment, and increased exports.
Less evident are the ensuing impacts that the factories have
had on individuals, families, and villages - particularly in
the conservative rural areas of the country. Persistent
concerns about factory jobs include mixing of men and women,
misperceptions about foreign laborers, and cooperation with
Israelis in QIZ operations. Balanced against these negative
perceptions are the social and economic benefits of
manufacturing operations. Particularly on the level of
individual workers, QIZ jobs are instrumental in giving a new
generation of Jordanian women more influence over personal
finances, limited independence and mobility, exposure to new
cultures, and gratification from providing their families
with income. Challenges for the future include instilling a
mentality of industrialism in the Jordanian workforce and
battling Jordanian public misconceptions about the nature of
factory work. END SUMMARY.

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2. (SBU) Established as a result of Jordan,s 1994 peace
treaty with Israel, Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZs) are
host to more than 50 garment factories and provide jobs for
some 22,000 Jordanian workers per year. Approximately half
of these are women from rural areas who have very few
alternatives for employment. According to several women, as
many as 90 percent of the young men and women in their
villages are currently working in a QIZ factory. Each
factory provides transportation for the workers from their
homes, which are typically a 30-45 minute bus-ride from the
factory but can be as far as 1.5 hours away. Normal shifts
are six days a week, eight hours a day, though at least two
hours of overtime daily are usually expected. Laborers earn
little more than the minimum wage of 85 JD per month; (the
average monthly wage in Jordan across all sectors is
approximately 200 JD). Conditions in these factories are
generally good; labor rights are closely monitored by
American buyers, the Ministry of Labor, and labor unions (Ref

3. (SBU) The majority of female Jordanian QIZ laborers are
between the ages of 19 and 25 and unmarried. New workers
join cutting and finishing lines, and more experienced
Jordanians join foreign workers on sewing lines and in
quality control departments. Most Jordanian men work in the
packing and shipping departments, while a small number of
foreign men among the 15,000 foreign QIZ laborers (largely
South and East Asians) work alongside the women in sewing.
Most QIZ workers graduated from high school but did not score
high enough on exams to go to public universities, and a
handful are current university students working during summer
vacation. The vast majority of women who Emboffs met during
factory visits indicated that even if they wanted to continue
employment after marriage, their husbands would oblige them
to work at home unless the family was desperate for
additional money.

4. (SBU) Research for this report included tours of 12
factories in different regions of Jordan, brief exchanges
with individuals on the production lines, and hour-long
interviews with small groups of investors, managers, and 25
Jordanian laborers. Most of these laborers were selected
randomly and interviewed away from their employers with the
help of embassy FSN translators.

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5. (SBU) The creation of non-traditional workplaces such as
QIZ factories have generated negative reactions in some
conservative quarters of Jordan. Foremost is the concern
that women are working with unknown men and unsupervised by
family members. While women and men usually work in separate
departments and have limited interaction with each other,
public concern about inappropriate gender relations is the
primary factor preventing families from letting their female
family members work.

6. (SBU) In Jordanian culture, even unsubstantiated rumors of
flirtation or promiscuity can prove damaging. This concern
is abated for many female workers whose male uncles, cousins,
or brothers work in the same factory and can be aware of
other workers, activities. Still, female laborers express
dismay that many men refuse to marry a girl who has ever
worked in a factory, assuming she would have had unsupervised
relationships with other men and judging her family to be
incapable of providing for her. Men working in the factories
said they would not want their wives or sisters to work
there, defending themselves as able to provide for their own

7. (SBU) Working with foreigners from South and East Asia is
initially a major concern for employees, though after several
weeks it ends up being one highlight of the job. Jordanians
were most concerned about the language barrier and cultural
differences, including some of the clothing foreign girls
wear to work. One woman who had been working in a factory
for several years said she has seen new Jordanian employees
arrive for the first day and, after seeing so many Asian
workers, not come back because they were worried about SARS.
Jordan University Professor of Sociology Musa Shteiwi
confirmed hearing several rumors that the foreigners in QIZs
are prostitutes. He stressed that in most cases this label
was being applied to girls who were just talking to or
walking alone with men - activities which may be considered
harmless in their countries but raise suspicions in Jordan.

8. (SBU) Over time, observers note, fears of working with the
foreigners subside, and with a little new vocabulary and a
lot of gesturing, many become friends. "I get postcards -
and even a couple phone calls - from my friends who have
returned to China," exclaimed one woman, explaining that she
had invited foreign friends to spend weekends at home with
her family. Other women agreed that working with foreigners
has made them more open-minded and accepting of different

9. (SBU) Predictably, another snag about working in QIZs is
their association with Israeli businesses. To qualify for
quota- and duty-free access to the U.S., garments must
contain at least eight percent content from Israel. Because
Israeli goods and labor are much more expensive than products
from Asia, Jordanian QIZs only use small items such as
zippers, buttons, and thread from Israel. But even a minor
contribution from such a controversial partner has generated
a backlash. Some groups scorn QIZ laborers for making
dirty money., Most workers said that people in their home
towns or cities thought the factories were all owned and
operated by Israelis and did not believe that investors were
largely Chinese, Pakistani, or Indian.

10. (SBU) The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has contributed
more to the negative perceptions of QIZs than any other
factor, according to Amer Hadidi, the Director of Industrial
Development at the GOJ Ministry of Industry of Trade (protect
source). Hadidi noted "a very clear and direct relationship
between resistance to working for QIZs and increased problems
in the West Bank," which have both increased significantly
over the last four years. Hadidi emphasized that mosques are
seen as the most legitimate institution in conservative areas
of Amman, and some fuel dissent over QIZs; some vocal prayer
leaders and Islamic political activists exaggerate the
benefits Israel receives from QIZs.

11. (SBU) Hadidi also explained that labor unions can also be
highly politicized and speak out against cooperating with
Israelis. Bruce Mathews, a USAID-funded advisor to the
Minister of Labor, expressed frustration that the media does
not want to be associated with the positive aspects of QIZs.
He noted that there have been some articles in Arabic papers
outlining the economic benefits of factory employment but
none showing the positive social effects. To combat these
negative public perceptions, the Ministry of Labor is
launching a media campaign over TV and radio highlighting the
value of work and encouraging women to consider
non-traditional jobs.


12. (SBU) Despite the somewhat negative reactions to factory
work among rural and urban conservatives alike, workers
themselves are relieved to get out of the house and
positively contribute to their families, lifestyles. The
women unanimously agreed that working in a factory is "better
than staying at home," where they would usually be "bored,
watching TV, and wasting time." Increased responsibility is
evidenced by the fact that, in many cases, the women
themselves initiate the desire to work, having to convince
their families to let them go. Only after tours of the QIZs
and assurances from managers do parents relent, according to
Human Resource Managers in several different factories.

13. (SBU) For many girls, working has enabled them to travel
unaccompanied outside their cities for the first time. This
is most dramatically the case in three factories that house
some of the Jordanian women who live more than an hour away
in dorms within the QIZ. One dorm resident said, "of course
I felt lonely in the beginning, but now the other girls in my
dorm are like family." Others agreed, laughing that when
they do go home on weekends, their families are happier to
see them than if they came home every day.

14. (SBU) Additionally, working in the factories has given
women friends, contacts, and exposure to other regions in
Jordan. "I never imagined I would be able to meet people
from so many places - not only from different countries but
also from different cities within Jordan," exclaimed one girl
from a small village near Irbid. Such friendships may go a
long way towards encouraging independence as women have more
interaction with individuals outside of the more traditional
family and village networks. For now, however, women working
in the factories explained that they do not visit friends,
houses for an evening unless their families know each other.


15. (SBU) The control each woman has over how her paycheck is
spent varies widely depending on her family,s situation and
resources. For those who have brothers with jobs, the
monthly payment is only a small supplement to the family,s
income; these women are able to pay for their own clothes,
entertainment, and even education. In fewer cases, women are
the only income-earning member of their family, responsible
for the welfare of their parents and younger siblings while
also expected to do most of the housework after coming home.
On average, women give two-thirds of each check to their
father and spend one-third on themselves.

16. (SBU) Much of the money spent on themselves is used to
buy gifts for family members, including, for example, a
bicycle for younger brothers or jewelry for grandmothers.
The ability to spend their own money and buy gifts is a
strong incentive to work overtime and exceed production
quotas, for which each company gives bonus awards. Etaf
Halasseh, a manager of the Village Program at the Ministry of
Labor which provides subsidies for Jordanian women to live in
the dorms at Al-Tajamouat QIZ, was amazed to see the changes
in attitudes and appearances of women who had worked at the
factories. Without having to depend on their parents for an
allowance, these women were "cleaner, and had bought makeup
and nicer head-scarves." Halasseh also noted that the women
in the Village Program were healthier, as they were fed three
times a day at the factories, something their families were
often unable to provide.

17. (SBU) Though skeptical at first, families who decide to
allow females to work in the factories are largely supportive
of their work and extend greater trust in their relations
with strangers, according to most Jordanian factory workers.
Although the wages women earn are generally supplemental to
other sources of income for a family, working and bringing
home a paycheck has begun to change the young women,s role
at home. With some exceptions, employed women say they are
no longer entirely responsible for cooking, cleaning, or
taking care of younger children. These women still assist
with chores, but their household help is no longer expected
or taken for granted by other family members.

18. (SBU) Most companies distribute payments in cash once a
month, but at least one has established a bank account with
an ATM card for each employee and makes direct deposits of
the paychecks. Women in this factory liked being bank
customers and learning personal accounting skills, saying it
made them feel "professional."

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19. (SBU) With a high percentage of young men and women in
several villages working in QIZ factories over the last three
to four years, garment factories are slowly changing the
social and economic relationships of employees within their
families and villages. That so many women on their own
initiative begin working in QIZs is remarkable in traditional
Jordan; these women are willing to go against negative public
stereotypes about working with foreigners and to risk losing
marriage proposals because of their factory experience. For
most women, the small amount of money they earn on the
production line does not allow them to influence drastically
family purchases or their own personal savings. It does,
however, give them pride and satisfaction to contribute to
their families, quality of life, as they attest.

20. (SBU) Until more balanced and informed opinions about
gender relations, foreign workers, and Israeli partnerships
convince the wider population that QIZ factories can improve
quality of life, these factories will remain a source of some
skepticism and disharmony. Even for individuals and families
that experience the social and economic benefits of these job
opportunities first hand, there is little incentive or
capacity to speak out against misinformation often spread by
anti-Israeli factions. Likewise, foreign investors and
owners of the factories are concerned about sustainable
business prospects rather than long-term effects on the
Jordanian population. While they may try hard to offer
decent jobs, they prefer to steer clear of political
arguments and media attention.

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