News/US/CNMI: Leading US clothing retailers settle sweatshop claims in Saipan

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Subject: News/US/CNMI: Leading US clothing retailers settle sweatshop claims in Saipan
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Thu Jun 15 2000 - 08:52:47 EDT


Leading US clothing retailers settle sweatshop claims in Saipan
Sharon Behn
Agence France Presse, March 29, 2000

WASHINGTON, March 28 (AFP) -- Eight leading US clothing retailers have
agreed to settle claims against them in a federal class-action lawsuit
alleging that their garments are made in factories with sweatshop
conditions on the US island of Saipan, according to lawyers in the case
Tuesday.

Calvin Klein Inc., Jones Apparel Group, Liz Claiborne Inc., The May
Department Stores Company, Oshkosh B'Gosh Inc., Sears, Roebuck and Company,
Tommy Hilfiger USA Inc., and Warnaco, Inc., agreed to settle out of court
in the suit filed under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt
Organizations act.

Tuesday's announcement means that a the total of top US retailers have
agreed to pay a total of eight million dollars to settle the case brought
against them by the San Diego law firm of Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes and
Lerach on behalf of Saipan garment workers.

The US retailers agreed also to adhere to a rigorous system of independent
monitoring at the Saipan factories of contractors who produce their clothing.

"These settlements will dramatically improve the lives of thousands of
garment workers on Saipan," Jay Mazur, president of UNITED, one of the
largest garment workers' unions in the world, said in the statement.

However, none of the primarily foreign owners who actually operate the
factories, which often use cheap labor imported from China and the
Philippines, have yet agreed to settle.

In future supply contracts, retailers have agreed to require the factories
to comply with strict employment standards, including overtime pay, safe
food and drinking water, and agreeing to honor employees' basic human rights.

Yet to settle are The Gap, J.C. Penney, Target and Lane Bryant. Six more
companies were added to the suit March 3: Abercrombie and Fitch, Brooks
Brothers, Levi Strauss, Woolrich and Talbots.

The settlement is aimed at ending alleged sweatshop conditions in factories
on Saipan, part of the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands,
where low-wage immigrant workers produce garments with the "Made in USA"
label.

Workers complained of being locked into factories, beaten and forced to
undergo abortions. Many claimed they were indentured, which is against US law.

Under the terms of the settlement announced Tuesday, the 17 companies will
each make a one-time contribution to a fund that will finance an
independent monitoring program, as well as payments to workers, public
education, administration costs and lawyers fees.

The first round of settlements by Nordstrom, J. Crew, Cutter and Buck and
Gymboree occurred last August. A second round in October included Dress
Barn, Donna Karan, Philips-Van Heusen, Polo Ralph Lauren and Bryland L.P.

Within a month of the lawsuits' January 1999 filing, the industry was
reported to have suffered a 25 percent drop in orders.

According to the Northern Mariana Islands' finance department, apparel
manufacturing generates close to 40 million dollars annually in direct
revenue and produces 25 percent of tax revenue.
Melanie Orhant <<morhant@igc.org>>
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