A Jordanian human rights group found no clear evidence to support allegations of rape made by several female workers at one of the country's largest garment-makers exporting to the United States, according to an investigative report obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday.
Recent allegations of sexual assaults at the Classic Fashion factory sparked a petition campaign by U.S. labor activists that prompted several U.S. retailers to stop placing orders with the plant. The controversy fueled worries in Jordan because textile exports to the U.S. are a major engine of the country's economy.
The petition campaign began in June after a Bangladeshi worker told police that her Sri Lankan manager, Anil Santha, had raped her three times since March. Santha was arrested and has been charged with rape, and his trial is expected this year. He denied the accusation in an interview with The Associated Press.
The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, a U.S.-based workers group that helped the woman present her case to police and then flew her home to Bangladesh, says dozens of other women have been raped at the plant and that it has collected testimonies from some of them.
The group said it asked the National Center for Human Rights, a non-governmental rights group in Jordan, to investigate. The National Center said in a report on its inquiry that it, other NGOs and government representatives conducted interviews in the plant during repeated visits since June.
According to the National Center, six Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan workers claimed to have been raped or sexually harassed by Santha in 2010 and 2011. One woman became pregnant, according to a copy of the center's report obtained by the AP. A statement from an Indian worker said he saw Santha having sexual intercourse with some female workers and that some had been raped. The man, identified only as Munir, said Santha used his position to "silence" victims and that workers "were frightened of him."
However, the National Center said it found no information or evidence to support the rape allegations. It said there were contradictions in the testimonies over "the place and time of the alleged harassment" and that its investigators suspected the allegations were "malicious and aimed at undermining the factory."
The report gave no examples of contradictions and did not elaborate on what raised the investigators' suspicions.
Classic, whose factory is in northern Jordan, boasts annual exports of $125 million, nearly 13 percent of Jordan's $1 billion garment exports to the United States last year. Overall, garment exports make up roughly 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
Change.org, a social networking platform, says it has collected more than 144,000 signatures by U.S. consumers calling for American retailers to cut ties with the plant. Classic produces clothing for Wal-Mart, Macy's, Kohl's and Lands' End, as well as Champion, a HanesBrands line, sold at Target. Macy's, Kohl's and Lands' End have halted orders. Wal-Mart and Target have not responded to requests for comment.
Matt Hall, a vice president for external communications for HanesBrands, said when the rape allegations surfaced, his company sent a representative to Jordan to ensure that the "workplace was safe and sound while professional investigations could be conducted."
"Before HanesBrands draws any conclusions of its own, the company is awaiting the outcome of the case before the Jordanian criminal justice system," he told the AP in a written statement.
But he said investigations, including that by the National Center, raised "counter-issues that also need to be addressed, including claims that there is evidence of witness tampering and that the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights did not, in fact, interview any of the purported former workers making the allegations and has not shared the statements and information that its report is purportedly based on."
Charles Kernaghan, director of the Pittsburgh-based Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, said he and members of his group repeatedly met with scores of Classic factory workers, including rape victims, since 2008.
"Our last meeting in late December was in a rundown hotel in Jordan, where dozens of workers visited secretly to tell us about the atrocities committed by their superiors in the factory," he said. He said the institute also had taped testimonies from the factory's rape victims. Several videos of testimonies are on its website.
Associated Press Writer Dale Gavlak in Amman contributed to this report.
Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights: http://www.globallabourrights.org/
Platform for social change: http://www.Change.org
Classic Fashion: http://www.classicfashionapparel.com
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