Global Survival Network, Human Trafficking Testimony

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Subject: Global Survival Network, Human Trafficking Testimony
From: Richard Scharlat (ingsn@hotmail.com)
Date: Mon Sep 27 1999 - 15:25:54 EDT


Dear All:

Several days ago, the US Congress conducted a hearing on Saipan, USA, a
center for human trafficking of women and men, mainly from Asia, and some
from Russia. I testified on behalf of Global Survival Network. Nousher
Jahedi, a Bangladeshi who was trafficked to Saipan, joined me. My testimony
is below for anyone who is interested.

I urge anyone who is concerned about trafficking in the US, Asia or Russia
to contact the Chairman of this Committee, Don Young, as soon as possible to
register your concerns. Here is why:

The hearing was a sham. The House Committee on Resources, which conducted
the hearing, used it to bash federal agencies, especially the Department of
Interior. They were not the least bit interested in stories of human
trafficking occurring on US soil. They even accused Nousher of making up his
story of being trafficked in order to get a green card. They accused him of
not writing his own testimony, suggesting that it, along with GSN's report,
"Trapped" were essentially ghost written.

We fought back. Nousher and I ably answered their questions, laying to rest
who was who. And I suggested that if the republicans wanted to conduct a
witch hunt to find ghost writers and conspiratorial connections, they should
have looked behind us at the hearing at the lawyers and lobbyists in the
audience, some of whom wrote the testimony for the Saipan governor and other
Saipan administration reps present.

The house republican leadership is opposed to any federal imposition of
labor and immigration regulations in Saipan because the garment businesses
set up there have lobbied successfully to maintain the status quo. The
status quo in Saipan is a set of weak, local immigration and labor laws,
which allows for almost unlimited importation of foreign, cheap labor.
There is a lot of money involved, since the largest labels in the world
(Gap, Ralph Lauren, just to name a few) have much of their cotton knitted
items produced in Saipan.

I urge you all to write or call the Chairman of the House Resource
Committee, Don Young (ph. 202-225-5765 or don.young@mail.house.gov) to
express your concern about the fact that he chaired a hearing that failed to
address the misery of thousands of victims of trafficking. Anyone with
access to transcripts of the hearing, which was full of fire for 7 full
hours, would find interesting reading, I assure you.

Anyone interested in more background information on this subject, see our
report, "Trapped" on our web site:
www.globalsurvival.net. You can download it for free.

Thank you,

Steve Galster
Director
GSN

TESTIMONY BY STEVEN R. GALSTER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
GLOBAL SURVIVAL NETWORK

BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES, CONCERNING THE U.S. COMMONWEALTH OF
THE NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS

SEPTEMBER 16, 1999

TESTIMONY PRESENTED BY:

STEVEN R. GALSTER
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
GLOBAL SURVIVAL NETWORK
P.O. BOX 73214
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20009
TEL: 202-387-0028

TESTIMONY BY STEVEN R. GALSTER, GLOBAL SURVIVAL NETWORK, BEFORE THE HOUSE
COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES, SEPTEMBER 16, 1999, CONCERNING THE U.S. COMMONWEALTH
OF THE NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS (CNMI)

American traditions of fairness and human rights are routinely violated in
the U.S. territory of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
(CNMI) -- and they will continue to be violated so long as the U.S. Congress
gives the CNMI government control over immigration and labor there.
Although not always apparent to visitors, debt bondage is a way of life for
many foreign workers living in the CNMI. Taking full advantage of the
CNMI's special status as a U.S. territory --a territory that is not, in
effect, fully bound by U.S. laws-- foreign corporations, Chinese employment
agencies, criminal human traffickers from across Asia, and opportunistic
middlemen from the CNMI have profited enormously at the expense of thousands
of foreign workers in search of jobs in the USA. They have also made a
mockery of our government's reputation as a leader of human rights.
Instead of finding the dollars and democracy most workers seek in CNMI, many
become trapped in debt-bondage situations, often with no one to look to for
help.

This situation has gone on long enough. The question remains: what are
those who can do something about this situation -- the House and Senate,
Resource, and Energy and Resource Committees in particular-- going to do
about it?

If past serves as prologue, so long as the characterization I just gave of
the situation in CNMI remains in question, I fear that very little will be
done. Word has already circulated that opponents of reform in CNMI are
anxious to pin the blame for any wrongdoings in CNMI on our federal
agencies.

The situation I depicted above may not be fully evident to a Congressperson
during a highly visible, 3 day visit to Saipan, but it is quite real.

The basic problem is NOT that existing US laws are not enforced by federal
agencies on Saipan. The basic problem is a systemic one: Congress has
allowed a situation to develop in which the transplanted Asian garment
industry simultaneously enjoys a substantial –perhaps $200,000,000 a
year—tax break, while flooding the local CNMI labor market with tens of
thousands, powerless foreign workers. The industry is protected by U.S.
tariffs, but the workers lack federal protections.

The picture I draw of the CNMI stems from my organization's research into
human trafficking operations in the CNMI. Global Survival Network (GSN) is
a human rights organization with a solid and extensive record for
investigating cases of human trafficking around the world. Our
investigative work on trafficking of women and girls for forced prostitution
out of the former Soviet Union and into Europe, Asia and the United States
was the focus of major media exposes carried by CNN, New York Times, US News
and World Report, ABC, BBC, and a host of other overseas media outlets. The
US State Department collaborated with GSN to educate women and girls in
Eastern Europe of potential dangers posed by deceitful and abusive human
traffickers abroad. GSN's research and recommendations are also the focus
of 2 pieces of legislation aimed at combating human trafficking, which are
currently being circulated in the US House and Senate chambers . GSN’s
investigative work on Saipan is detailed in this report, "Trapped," which
was the focus of an ABC 20/20 show on Saipan in late May, 1999.

During GSN's earlier investigation into Russian Organized Crime involvement
in international sex trafficking operations, a place called Saipan came up a
number of times as a destination point for Russian women, as well as women
from Asian countries, trafficked to service sex tourists. Typical of other
trafficking cases, we heard that Russian and Asian women paid exorbitant
recruitment fees to secure jobs as waitresses earning U.S. dollars in Saipan
for periods of 3 to 12 months at a time. The women assumed that they would
earn far more than the debt they incurred when "buying" their job, and many
assumed they would be working as waitresses. We extended our investigation
to the CNMI in 1998 and 1999 to have a closer look.

In preparing for our investigation, we learned that other foreigners were
also buying jobs to work in Saipan, most securing menial positions with the
Saipan garment industry. We read numerous accounts of alleged employer
abuse, including recruitment by deceit, and working under coercive and/or
debt-bondage situations. We could also see that these allegations were
strongly denied by the garment industry, CNMI officials, and even some US
Congresspersons.

Employer watchfulness and intimidation of workers --be it in brothels or
garment factories-- makes it difficult to obtain reliable information
through traditional journalism and interviewing methods. By the same token,
employers may not comfortably share with researchers the true nature of
their employment and supervisory techniques, for fear of saying something
that will be taken out of context and used against them unfairly.

In response to these constraints, GSN adopted unconventional research
procedures to document the existence or non-existence of human trafficking
in the CNMI. Leading this research team, I posed as an apparel company
representative interested in placing an order with Saipan-based factories.
Employers felt comfortable talking to me because they saw me as a potential
buyer. Another GSN researcher posed as an academic researcher interested in
migrant workers. Workers felt comfortable telling their story to her
because she was able to meet the workers outside their workplace, and
because the workers were never asked to provide their personal identity. On
both levels of inquiry, we challenged our interviewees to back up their
statements.

Travelling between executive garment offices in Hong Kong and factory floors
in Saipan, not to mention workers' barracks, we learned and documented the
following facts (some of which continue to be backed up by weekly reports
from our sources in Saipan):

* Most foreign workers in CNMI are working and living under debt bondage:
they have incurred between $1,500 and $12,000 in "recruitment fee" debts for
the right to have a job in CNMI. They are obliged to pay back this debt or
face serious consequences, including physical harm, and possibly even death,
to themselves or their families.

* In many cases, a foreign worker in CNMI will have to work one full year or
more, at 60 hours per week, to pay off their debt, before they start to earn
money for themselves.

* Once on Saipan, most of these foreign workers give up their right to
change jobs or return home because they have signed a contract in their own
country stating a commitment to work for their original employer.
Specifically their boss, in effect, has the power to deny them a job
transfer. This was explained to us by workers and employers alike. Several
security guards and sewers working for garment factories matter-of -factly
stated that if they took their respective complaints about non-payment and
employer harassment to the local Department of Labor and Immigration (DOLI)
they would lose their chance at having any job in the CNMI, which, given the
debt they had to pay off, was not a viable option.

* This letter was written two weeks ago by a Chinese woman in Saipan who
faces deportation 6 weeks from now because she has been black-listed by her
former employer, who she left and complained about to a US media company.
The power of her former employer extends back to China. She wrote that he
told her "Don't you dream, we will not agree on your date extension. You
should go back to China as soon as possible, and upon return to China, we
will have to deal with your matter."

A Saipan garment factory boss confirmed that he and other employers have
such power. He told me that if a worker in his factory wants to transfer to
another, the CNMI government will ask him if he approves of the transfer,
and usually he will say "no."

* Workers who do manage to leave their abusive employers are often forced to
"buy" their new job, usually at a rate of $1,000. Two months ago, several
Bangladeshi workers secretly recorded a garment factory employer offering
jobs for $1,000 apiece. This practice is widespread.

* Chinese criminal money lenders operate on Saipan with impunity, offering
desperate workers cash to buy jobs or for other purposes. Interest rates
are rates as high as 30%.

* Many foreign women and some girls have been deceived by traffickers who
promised jobs as waitresses, but upon arrival on Saipan they are forced into
prostitution, sometimes working in Chinese and Japanese owned clubs run by
what the women described to me as "Mafia."

* Many garment workers are still working in squalid conditions.
Specifically, I witnessed fire hazards in factories, air unfit for breathing
in others, dirty and cramped living quarters, and unsanitary water
conditions.

* Garment factory bosses are known to prepare their factories and workers
for visits by US legislators or garment monitors, by warning workers not to
speak badly about their jobs, and by cleaning up factory floors in advance
of the visit.

* Domestic servants in CNMI are often abused psychologically and sometimes
physically by their employers, who often pay them late, and sometimes not at
all.

* The CNMI government is neglectful of, and sometimes complicit in, labor
abuse. Job permits have been sold by CNMI officials to traffickers, who
turn around and sell jobs --sometimes non-existent ones-- to foreign
workers. The Department of Labor and Immigration does not always thoroughly
investigate some workers complaints against garment employers because the
CNMI government wants to maintain an amiable relationship with this
industry. The example I gave earlier of the secretly recorded conversation
of an employer selling jobs to out of work foreigners took place inside the
office of the Department of Labor and Immigration in Saipan.

* CNMI politicians and CNMI-based businessmen feel free to abuse workers
because:
-(a) the local government agency in charge of investigating labor abuse, the
Department of Labor and Immigration (DOLI) is less than diligent in
investigating allegations of abuse;
-(b) the US Department of Labor has limited authority in investigating
individual complaints. (See * below for details).
-(c) they have learned that window dressing for visits by US federal
officers or Congressmen is enough to deter reform efforts, even though some
of this window dressing has been exposed as very superficial, evidenced
recently by a serious water contamination case at the best factory in
Saipan.
-(d) they feel that they have close friends in high places that will staunch
efforts at reform, specifically high level US Congressmen.

On this last point, and then I will close, it is worth pointing out that the
very top garment executives, as well as some CNMI legislators I met, felt
completely immune from any potential Congressional reform efforts in CNMI.
They claimed that House Majority Whip, Tom DeLay would manipulate
congressional processes to prevent CNMI labor reform. The exact words of
one executive, which summed up this feeling of immunity, were these: "You
know what Tom told me? He said, [name of executive], if they elect me as
majority whip, I make the schedule of the Congress. And I'm not going to put
in on the schedule. They got to go through all the committees before they
come to me. Even if it comes to me, I'm not going to schedule it. What,
are they going to have a motion to get it from my committee, they will not
do that --who are you? So Tom told me, forget it...not a chance."

This same executive, who holds more sway with the CNMI government than any
one person, added: "[Tom DeLay] called up the guy who is charge of the
committee, his name is Don Young from Alaska...And he said Don, nothing
wrong with CNMI. He say, you gotta go there. If this is slave labor,
mistreatment, those kind of thing, go after them. It's all not true...You
guys are trying to do something right into wrong. Tom explained to them.
So, Don Young backed off."

I hope that this Committee is not really backing off the issue of reform in
CNMI.
There are many people in the CNMI, together with their families back home,
who anxiously await the outcome of these hearings. Indulge me one last time
as I read another quote from the letter written by the Chinese worker in
Saipan, who has exhausted all available channels for help in Saipan,
including the very committed, but limited US federal offices. If you think
this is manipulative, just remember that this story is typical of what so
many foreign workers have to tell from their experience in the US
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. This letter was written on
August 30, 1999:

"Currently, my situation is very difficult. If I return to China, its
governmental International Company [the agency that recruited her to work in
Saipan and charged her for the job] would seek revenge and punish me; if I
don't go back to China, my life is threatened here. Everyday, I am on
tenterhooks, hiding while seeking jobs that are not to be found. I can't
support myself for basic expenses, such as food, rent and going to the
doctor. Now, I am at the end of my rope. I once asked for help from
relevant U.S. departments in Saipan. I never got any answers. I am
beginning to think it may be true that the U.S. government really has used
me up, and doesn't care about my life or death??? Therefore, I ask you,
Congress, etc. to help me. If you don't help me, and I continue to live like
this, I may die in Saipan. I have reached the stage of collapse. Please
give me a hand.!!!"

Please give this woman, and many other foreign workers like her in CNMI, a
hand. Please extend the Immigration and Nationality Act, and the Fair
Labor Standards Act of the United States, to the CNMI as soon as possible.
Congress has denied to the states, such as Alaska, the power to control
their own immigration and minimum wage laws, but it has given these same
powers to CNMI politicians, who are mainly influenced by Asian garment
companies that care first and foremost about profit, and little if anything
about human rights for their workers. That was a mistake that Congress can
change by a majority vote. Thank you.

footnote:
* The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage Hour Division has the authority to
investigate cases involving non-payment of appropriate overtime wages
referred from the CNMI Department of Labor and Immigration or directly from
workers. Both agencies, however, lack the authority to look into cases of
unpaid regular wages. The federal Wage Hour Division only intervenes to
examine businesses with more than $500,000 in wages annually, thus, only in
cases involving multiple employees and egregious overtime violations.

SUPPLEMENTAL SHEET
TESTIMONY PRESENTED BY:

STEVEN R. GALSTER
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
GLOBAL SURVIVAL NETWORK
P.O. BOX 73214
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20009
TEL: 202-387-0028

BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES, CONCERNING THE U.S. COMMONWEALTH OF
THE NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS

SEPTEMBER 16, 1999

TOPICAL OUTLINE OR SUMMARY:

American traditions of fairness and human rights are routinely violated in
the U.S. territory of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
(CNMI) -- and they will continue to be violated so long as the U.S. Congress
gives the CNMI government control over immigration and labor there.
Although not always apparent to visitors, debt bondage is a way of life for
many foreign workers living in the CNMI. Taking full advantage of the
CNMI's special status as a U.S. territory --a territory that is not, in
effect, fully bound by U.S. laws-- foreign corporations, Chinese employment
agencies, criminal human traffickers from across Asia, and opportunistic
middlemen from the CNMI have profited enormously at the expense of thousands
of foreign workers in search of jobs in the USA. They have also made a
mockery of our government's reputation as a leader of human rights.
Instead of finding the dollars and democracy most workers seek in CNMI, many
become trapped in debt-bondage situations, often with no one to look to for
help.

The basic problem is NOT that existing US laws are not enforced by federal
agencies on Saipan. The basic problem is a systemic one: Congress has
allowed a situation to develop in which the transplanted Asian garment
industry simultaneously enjoys a substantial –perhaps $200,000,000 a
year—tax break, while flooding the local CNMI labor market with tens of
thousands, powerless foreign workers. The industry is protected by U.S.
tariffs, but the workers lack federal protections.

Congress has denied to the states, such as Alaska, the power to control
their own immigration and minimum wage laws, but it has given these same
powers to CNMI politicians, who are mainly influenced by Asian garment
companies that care first and foremost about profit, and little if anything
about human rights for their workers. That was a mistake that Congress can
change by a majority vote.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Extend the Immigration and Nationality Act, and the Fair Labor Standards
Act of the United States, to the CNMI as soon as possible.
  ATTACHMENT TO ACCOMPANY:

TESTIMONY PRESENTED BY:

STEVEN R. GALSTER
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
GLOBAL SURVIVAL NETWORK
P.O. BOX 73214
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20009
TEL: 202-387-0028

BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES, CONCERNING THE U.S. COMMONWEALTH OF
THE NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS

SEPTEMBER 16, 1999

Wan Lan: Chinese-English Literal Translation, Written in Saipan

Dear respectful Mr. Steph gelster:

My name is Wan Lan. I am a Chinese laborer working in Saipan Island. I am
writing to especially tell you about my persecution and the difficult
situation that I am in after I complained about my employer. I hope you
will find time in your busy schedule to help me, a helpless, pitiful person.

In 1996, I was introduced by a Chinese governmental organization Jiangxi
Province International Company to come to work in MGM Junior clothing
company in Saipan. In 1998, ABC television station in New York broadcasted
my complaint about my employer regarding human rights problems, etc. The
complaint generated strong repercussions in all walks of society. My
employer’s shame turned to anger and he directed a subordinate to wound me
(I have the picture of my wound and the diagnosis from the doctor). Taking
advantage of my not knowing English, he had me detained in a police station
for a day and a night. Then, he fired me. After I lost my job, I went to
work as a TWA temporary worker for three months in another clothing
factory, UK Company. Since I am a serious worker, the UK Company was ready
to transfer me into a regular company worker job. Once my original
employer, MGM Junior, found out about this, he tried very hard to stop this
and I lost another job. After this, I paid a $1,000 fee to ask some
go-between person to introduce and transfer me to Mariana Fashion Corp.
(Because Saipan is currently very corrupt, in order to get to work in a
clothing factory, the employer, the director, and the local manager all ask
for a fee which is kept secret). Little did I know that MGM Junior had
called my new employer and attacked me, which cost me not only a job
opportunity but also $1,000. After this, I looked for jobs in many clothing
factories, but once they heard my name, they rejected me. Finally, I knew
it was MGM Junior who had called all the companies and had asked them to
reject me. Although, I looked for jobs in stores and restaurants, I got the
same treatment. The MGM Junior employer once said that he was going to get
revenge and put me to death.

Now, I am facing the November 6, 1999 expiration date of my business
passport. According to Chinese government regulations, the extension of the
expiration date should be approved by Jiangxi International Company. Yet,
the staff from the International Company says: "Don’t you dream, we will
not agree on your date extension. You should go back to China as soon as
possible, and upon returning to China, we will have to deal with your
matter." The reason that they treated me as such is because I was the one
who originally complained about the MGM Junior employer, and I also got on
the ABC station to lead people to go to the federal Labor Department to be
witnesses, and become witnesses for the U.S. lawyers‚ class action case to
sue the Saipan clothing business for $1 billion compensation. At that time,
the International Company once warned me not to sue or to lead others to
sue. It said that the Americans were using me and once they finished using
me, they would kick me out and never pay attention to me. It also said that
if I sue, it would have a negative impact on the clothing business in
Saipan, which would directly have a negative effect on the International
Company"s transport labor business and cause the company big economic losses
since each laborer pays 30,000 to 45,000 yuan Renminbi. According to our
knowledge, the company and the employer would divide the money equally.

There were even more frightening things happening a few months ago after I
took quite a few people to the federal Labor Department to sue. Also, I
appeared for the second time on the New York ABC station, etc. I was
threatened many times on the telephone that if I continue to lead people to
sue, I would be killed. The person who threatened me said that he is part
of the mafia sent by the clothing factory. At that time I asked for help
from the federal Labor Department. I got immediate protection from people
sent by the FBI for a few days. Since the criminal wasn’t caught, the case
was set aside. I can’t think straight, wondering whether or not these
departments would only protect me after I am wounded or dead. If I really
have to wait until then to get protection, why would I need their help and
what would be the use of such help???

Currently, my situation is very difficult. If I return to China, its
governmental International Company would seek revenge and punish me; if I
don’t go back to China, my life is threatened here. Everyday, I am on
tenterhooks, hiding while seeking jobs that are not to be found. I can’t
support myself for basic expenses such as food, rent, and going to the
doctor. Now, I am at the end of my rope. I once asked for help from
relevant U.S. departments in Saipan. I never got any answers. I am
beginning to think it may be true that the U.S. government really has used
me up, and doesn’t care about my life or death???

Therefore, I had to ask you, Congress, etc. to try to help me. If you don’t
help me, and I continue to live like this, I may die in Saipan. I have
reached the stage of collapse. Please give me a hand!!!

Pleader for help: Wan Lan

August 30, 1999, written in Saipan

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