News/US/CNMI: 4 Retailers Settle Sweatshop Suit

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Subject: News/US/CNMI: 4 Retailers Settle Sweatshop Suit
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Aug 11 1999 - 11:49:43 EDT


>From Melanie:

Most of the people who work the sweatshops are victims of trafficking.
Additionally, thousands of others who do not work in the sweatshops are
also victims of trafficking. The whole situation in the Commonwealth of
the Northern Mariana Islands is quite depressing.

Melanie......

___________________

4 Retailers Settle Sweatshop Suit
By Jeff Wilson
August 9, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Four prominent retailers agreed Monday to settle a
federal class-action lawsuit claiming garment industry sweatshop abuses on
the U.S. territory of Saipan.

Under settlements filed in U.S. District Court, Nordstrom Inc., J. Crew
Group Inc., Cutter & Buck Inc. and Gymboree Corp. agreed to require
independent monitoring of their Saipan contractors in working toward
compliance with U.S. labor laws and international human rights treaties.

``No one wants to destroy the garment industry in Saipan, but it should not
come at the price of indentured servitude,'' plaintiff attorney William
Lerach said.

U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder still must approve the settlement.

Three lawsuits filed Jan. 13 described approximately 32 contractors in
Saipan as ``America's worst sweatshop'' where there were beatings, forced
abortions, vermin-infested quarters, barbed wire and armed guards.
Employees worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, the suits claim.

In the Los Angeles class-action suit against 17 retailers, attorneys for
the remaining 13 defendants argued Monday that California has no
jurisdiction and the case should be moved to Saipan. The judge told lawyers
to submit more documents next week.

Another federal suit filed in Saipan, targeting overtime pay, was dismissed
by a judge on Friday because the identification of ``John Doe'' plaintiffs
could jeopardize their safety on the island, Lerach said.

Meanwhile the third suit, filed at state court in San Francisco against 18
retailers, will also be settled, Lerach said.

Under terms of the settlement, the companies will establish a $1.25 million
fund to finance the independent monitoring program, provide money to the
workers, create a public education campaign and attorneys' fees.

``We believe the settlement is a positive step toward our goal of ensuring
that the goods we contract to manufacture in Saipan are made in compliance
with law,'' Nordstrom's co-president, Erik Nordstrom, said in a statement.

``We don't feel like we should've been in this suit to begin with. We think
that we would have prevailed in the case had we stuck it out, but this is a
business decision,'' said Harvey Jones, chairman and CEO of Cutter & Buck.

He noted that his company already closely monitored its contractors for
wrongdoing.

Statements released by J. Crew and Gymboree stressed the companies weren't
admitting any wrongdoing in settling the suits.

Attorneys also filed a letter of agreement in principle to settle with Polo
Ralph Lauren Corp., Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., Donna Karan International
Inc. and Chadwick's of Boston Ltd., who were about to be named as
defendants in the suit.

Abuses in Saipan, a 13-mile-long Western Pacific island in the Northern
Marianas, had been documented previously, but the class-action suits were
the first legal attempt to hold U.S. retailers accountable for alleged
mistreatment of workers by subcontractors under the federal Racketeer
Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The 32 Saipan factories -- mostly owned by Chinese, Japanese and Korean
subcontractors -- stamp their clothing with ``Made in the USA'' tags,
misleading consumers to think the clothing was made in compliance with U.S.
labor laws, the suits alleged.

In the fiscal year that ended in October, the Saipan companies shipped an
estimated $1 billion in wholesale clothing duty-free to the U.S. mainland,
saving more than $200 million, according to plaintiffs' attorney William
Lerach.

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


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