US sweatshop lawsuit

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Subject: US sweatshop lawsuit
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Fri Jan 15 1999 - 14:17:08 EST


>Date: Fri, 15 Jan 1999 09:31:43 -0800 (PST)
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>From: Campaign for Labor Rights <clr@igc.apc.org>
>Subject: US sweatshop lawsuit
>
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>
>US SWEATSHOP LAWSUIT
>posted January 15, 1999
>
>[The following information was provided by Sweatshop Watch: (510) 834-8990,
><sweatwatch@igc.org>. For action suggestions and more information on
>sweatshop conditions in the Northern Mariana Islands, visit the Sweatshop
>Watch web site at <http://www.sweatshopwatch.org/marianas>.]
>
>NOTE: Campaign for Labor Rights has downloaded the January 14 New York Times
>and Washington Post coverage on the lawsuit. If you would like to receive a
>email copy of those articles, send a request to <CLR@igc.org>.
>
>First-ever Lawsuits Filed Charging Sweatshop Conspiracy Between Major U.S.
>Clothing Designers and Retailers, Foreign Textile Producers
>
>15,000 Workers Living in Indentured Servitude While Producing Goods "Made in
>the USA"
>
>More Than $1 Billion Sought - Defendants Include The Gap, Tommy Hilfiger,
>May Company, Sears and Wal-Mart
>
>In the first-ever attempt to hold U.S. retailers and manufacturers
>accountable for mistreatment of workers in foreign-owned factories operating
>on U.S. soil, litigation was filed today in California and Saipan against 18
>high-profile U.S. clothing manufacturers and retailers, including The Gap,
>Tommy Hilfiger, The Limited, J.C. Penny, May Company, Sears and Wal-Mart.
>
>These companies are accused of violating federal law by engaging in a
>"racketeering conspiracy" using indentured labor - predominantly young women
>from Asia - to produce clothing on the island of Saipan. (Saipan is part of
>the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. Commonwealth in the South Pacific.)
>
>Their foreign-owned garment contractors in Saipan are also charged with
>failing to pay overtime and ongoing intolerable work and living conditions.
>In the last five years, contractors in Saipan have received more than 1,000
>citations for violating U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration
>(OSHA) standards, many of which characterized capable of causing death or
>serious injury.
>
>Two federal class action lawsuits were filed on behalf of more than 50,000
>workers from China, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Thailand. The workers
>were allegedly drawn to Saipan with the promises of high pay and quality
>work in the United States. Instead, they found themselves working up to
>12-hour days, seven days a week, often "off the clock" without receiving any
>pay or overtime.
>
>A third companion lawsuit was filed in California state court by four labor
>and human rights groups (Sweatshop Watch, Global Exchange, Asian Law Caucus,
>and UNITE). The lawsuit accuses the retailers and manufacturers of using
>misleading advertising and trafficking in "hot goods" manufactured in
>violation of U.S. labor laws.
>
>Together, the three lawsuits are seeking more than a billion dollars in
>damages, disgorgement of profits and unpaid wages.
>
>"To allow such squalid conditions to persist on American soil is both
>patently unlawful and morally reprehensible," said Al Meyerhoff, one of the
>lead attorneys. "Saipan is America's worst sweatshop."
>
>According to the lawsuits:
>
>*Garments made in Saipan's sweatshops may carry a "Made in the USA" or "Made
>in the Northern Marianas, USA" label. American consumers are deceived into
>believing they have purchased a product made by American workers protected
>by U.S. labor laws, that guarantee a decent wage and a clean, safe work place.
>
>*Last year alone, the federal government estimated that contractors and U.S.
>retailers avoided more than $200 million in duties for $1 billion worth of
>garments shipped from Saipan, that would otherwise have been paid for the
>same clothing if it were manufactured in China or the Philippines. Some
>Chinese garment interests have moved their textile operations to Saipan
>virtually "lock, stock and barrel," in large part, to avoid U.S. duties and
>quota restrictions. The federal government estimates that this increase in
>Chinese apparel production in Saipan has allowed China to exceed its import
>quota by 250% in 1997 alone.
>
>*Although Saipan's garment factories are owned predominantly by Chinese and
>Korean companies, quality-control inspectors from The Gap, The Limited, and
>other U.S. retailers allegedly oversee the manufacturing process. Still,
>they have refused to exercise their power to mitigate the intolerable
>working and living conditions.
>
>*Over 90% of garment industry jobs in the Marianas are held by foreign
>"guest workers." These and other foreign workers make up more than half of
>the estimated total Marianas population of 70,000. This is largely due to
>the Island's exemption from U.S. minimum wage and immigration laws
>instituted to encourage local economic development. Since 1996, over 200,000
>apparel industry jobs were lost in the continental United States.
>
>*With promises of a good job and a new life, workers agree to repay
>recruitment fees from $2,000 to $7,000. They often must sign "shadow
>contracts" waiving basic human rights, including the freedom to date or marry.
>
>*The crowded, unsanitary factories and shanty-like housing compounds are in
>flagrant violation of federal law. The heat in some factories is so extreme
>it can cause workers to faint. Many live in a room with up to seven other
>people in inward-pointing barbed wire-enclosed barracks. Their movements are
>strictly supervised by guards, and are subject to lockdowns or curfews.
>Complaints about the conditions are met with threats of termination,
>physical harm and summary deportation.
>
>"Unfortunately, slavery and indentured servitude is alive and well in the
>many parts of the world, including the United States," said another lead
>attorney, William S. Lerach. "Companies like The Gap and Wal-Mart have
>reaped millions in profits from this scheme - now they will be held
>accountable."
>
>Conditions in the Marianas have generated a host of highly critical reports
>from federal agencies and Congressional oversight. One recent report on the
>Marianas from the U.S. Department of the Interior sharply criticized "the
>heavy and unhealthy dependence upon an indentured alien worker program and
>on trade loopholes to expand its economy."
>
>Garment production in Saipan continues to increase, already exceeding that
>of Malaysia and Jamaica. Although the legal limit on foreign garment workers
>is 11,000 recent estimates exceed 15,000, and more factories are being built.
>
>The plaintiffs are represented by a coalition of law firms, including
>Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach LLP - class action specialists with
>principal offices in New York and San Diego. The firm has successfully
>litigated numerous consumer lawsuits against such companies as R.J. Reynolds
>("the Joe Camel" case), Prudential Insurance (for life insurance fraud) and
>Lincoln Savings (for defrauding depositors).
>
>Most recently, the firm negotiated a $1.2 billion settlement from Swiss
>banks as reimbursement to surviving families and victims of the Holocaust.
>They are currently seeking compensation for Holocaust victims forced to work
>as slave laborers in factories.
>

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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