News: US Companies Sued Over Saipan Factories

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Subject: News: US Companies Sued Over Saipan Factories
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Thu Jan 14 1999 - 18:23:04 EST


US Companies Sued Over Saipan Factories
By Jeff Wong
January 14, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Thousands come to the U.S. territory of Saipan
[actually, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands -- MK] from
across Asia, lured by promises of good-paying jobs in garment factories and
the possibility of a better life in the United States.

What they get, one lawyer said, is ``America's worst sweatshop.''

Three lawsuits filed Wednesday claim that Saipan workers face beatings,
forced abortions, vermin-infested quarters, barbed wire and armed guards --
all while making clothing tagged ``Made in the USA'' for retailers that
include Wal-Mart, Sears, the Gap, Tommy Hilfiger and J. Crew.

The lawsuits seek more than $1 billion in damages for conditions lawyers
say have persisted for the past decade in the 13-mile-long tropical isle in
the Central Pacific.

It is the first legal attempt to hold U.S. retailers accountable for the
mistreatment of workers by subcontractors under the federal Racketeer
Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, attorneys said at news
conferences in New York and Los Angeles.

More than 50,000 people, mostly young women, have been recruited from
China, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Thailand with promises of good
wages, only to wind up in sweatshops that ``would make medieval conditions
look good,'' plaintiffs' attorney William Lerach said in Los Angeles.

Two class-action lawsuits were filed on behalf of the workers in federal
courts in Los Angeles and Saipan. Human rights groups -- Global Exchange,
Sweatshop Watch and the Asian Law Caucus -- joined the Union of
Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees in filing suit in state
court in San Francisco.

Of the 18 companies named in the lawsuits, Nordstrom, Warnaco, Tommy
Hilfiger, J.C. Penney, Wal-Mart, OshKosh B'Gosh, Cutter & Buck Inc. and
Dayton Hudson Corp. insist they hire subcontractors that strictly follow
U.S. labor laws. Wal-Mart denied accepting merchandise from factories in
Saipan.

Other companies said they had no comment or did not return phone calls.

According to the lawsuits, 32 factories force people to work up to 12 hours
a day, seven days a week, and threaten them with beatings and verbal abuse
if they refuse unpaid overtime to meet quotas.

Passports are confiscated, workers are not allowed to leave the factory
compound and social activities are strictly monitored, Lerach said.

Many workers allegedly pay as much as $7,000 as a ``recruitment fee'' to go
to Saipan, lured by recruiters who say they will be living an hour's train
ride from Los Angeles, Lerach said.

Saipan is part of the Northern Marianas, an island chain seized by U.S.
troops from Japan in World War II that negotiated a commonwealth
relationship with Washington. The deal left control of immigration and
minimum wages in local hands, and exempted Saipan's exports from U.S.
duties and quotas.

The companies named in the lawsuits are Associated Merchandising Corp.;
Cutter & Buck; Dayton-Hudson; Dress Barn; Gap; Gymboree Manufacturing; J.
Crew; J.C. Penney Co. Inc.; Jones Apparel Group; Lane Bryant; The Limited;
May Department Stores Co.; Nordstrom; OshKosh B'Gosh; Sears Roebuck & Co.;
Tommy Hilfiger; Wal-Mart; and Warnaco.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A new Interior Department report on indentured servitude of
foreign workers on Saipan is now on line at:

    http://www.doi.gov/oia/cnmi/98nmi.html

Melanie Orhant

Co-Director
Human Trafficking Program
Global Survival Network

P.O. Box 73214
Washington, DC 20009
T: 387-0028
F: 387-2590
Email: morhant@igc.org
www.globalsurvival.net


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