The first group of workers arriving in Vietnam from Jordan.
March 27, 2008: Aramark, one of the primary customers of W&D Apparel in Jordan, has contacted the firm’s owner regarding his withholding of the passports of Vietnamese workers who have repeatedly requested to return home.
Ronald Iori, Aramark’s senior vice president for corporate communications and public affairs, informed Boat People SOS (BPSOS) on March 25 that Aramark had contacted James Shen, the factory owner, about the situation of the more than 170 female workers now on strike.
The workers have on many occasions expressed their desire to return to their homeland, but Shen has refused to return their passports. He has insisted that their return home depends on the Vietnamese government and the labor export companies involved.
In light of this situation, BPSOS requested the intervention of Aramark, which is headquartered in Philadelphia. The firm responded immediately and has promised to reply further after investigating the situation.
The investigation by Aramark may have contributed much-needed pressure on Shen, who must in turn convince the Vietnamese labor export firms and Vietnamese government to bring the workers home. On March 16, five workers, most of them ill, returned home. According to information offered by W&D Apparel itself, additional workers will be allowed to return home in coming days.
“This concession comes just in time, because these people are exhausted, both physically and mentally,” according to Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang, executive director of BPSOS.
Iori has said that he will pursue the case further with Shen, and keep BPSOS posted on the developing situation.
Since February 27, the day the workers first obtained some relief from Shen’s oppression and exploitation thanks to pressure by BPSOS and other organizations, the Coalition Against Modern-day Slavery in Asia (CAMSA) has raised an ongoing appeal with the Vietnamese government to meet the striking workers’ wishes to return home.
The CAMSA alliance was established earlier this year in order to intervene on behalf of, and protect, the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese working abroad. BPSOS is one of the member organizations. Other member organizations include the International Society for Human Rights (Germany), the Vietnamese-Canadian Federation, and the Committee to Protect the Rights of Vietnamese Workers – USA.