Jordan’s apparel sector was given a major boost with the announcement that Singapore’s Ramatex Group, which makes clothes for the likes of Nike and Uniqlo, is pressing ahead with plans to establish a manufacturing facility in the Kingdom at a cost $20 million.
The facility, which is also Ramatex’s first in the region, will be built in phases and split between the Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZ) located in Muwaqqar and Karak, said Khaled Abu Rabei, the acting head of the Jordan Investment Commission.
The announcement comes after a memorandum of understanding was signed in February between Ramatex and the Jordan Industrial Estates Corporation, the body that oversees the QIZs. It was agreed work would begin by the end of the year on the facility, which will span over 100 dunums and create some 9,000 new jobs.
Migrants still make up the majority of employees working across Jordan’s 14 QIZs, which mostly produce clothing that’s exported to the United States duty free as part of Jordan’s peace deal with Israel. But there are signs that more Jordanians are gradually joining the sector that’s estimated to be worth over $1 billion annually. In 2013, the sector employed 13,000 Jordanians and 35,000 migrants, compared respectively to 10,000 and 40,000 the year before.
Ramatex’s investment will also be seen as vote on confidence in efforts the sector has undertaken over recent years to clear up its image in the eyes of international rights groups. Stung by criticisms of poor living and working conditions in the QIZs, factory owners have joined forces with government officials, trade unions and the United Nations to introduce measures such as a pioneering collective bargaining agreement designed to improve dialogue and industrial relations in the sector.
“For a first contract, it is quite comprehensive with provisions on union recognition and access to workers, dues check-off, dormitory standards, dispute settlement, employer rights, and annual seniority bonuses for all workers regardless of their nationalities,” said Philip Fishman, program manager at Better Work Jordan, a UN body that’s been working to boost standards and competitiveness in the sector since 2008.