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feminist wire | daily newsbriefs

January-14-99

Suits Seek More Than $1 Billion for Sweatshop Abuses

Three lawsuits together will seek more than $1 billion dollars for horrendous human rights abuses suffered by garment workers in Saipan.

Two of the suits were class action suits filed in Los Angeles and the U.S. territory of Saipan. Saipan is a 13-mile-long island in the Northern Marianas where plaintiffs charge that hundreds of thousands of Asian workers were lured with promised of good pay, and then beaten, threatened, and forced to work for little pay in unsafe and inhumane working conditions. Plaintiffs' attorney Al Meyerhoff has called Saipan "American's worst sweatshop."

Most sweatshop workers are young women from China, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Thailand. Plaintiffs allege that factory managers regularly confiscate their workers' passports, detain them at the factory compound and limit their social activities, force them to work up to 12 hour days, 7 days a week, and threaten and beat workers who cannot meet factory quotas. Workers are forced to work and live in crowded, unsafe environments, are often surrounded by brutal guards, and are frequently malnourished.

Plaintiffs allege that 32 Saipan factories owned mostly by Chinese, Japanese, and Korean subcontractors produce clothing that bears the "Made in the U.S.A." label. Eighteen companies were named in the lawsuit, and another 22 companies have been charged with withholding overtime pay and subjecting its employees to intolerable living and working conditions.

A third lawsuit was filed by human rights groups Global Exchange, Sweatshop Watch, Asian Law Caucus, and the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees in a San Francisco state court.

Together, the lawsuits seek over $1 billion in corporate profits, damages and unpaid wages. Lead plaintiffs' attorney William S. Lerach offered an apt summary of the abuses, saying, "On an island where thousands of American soldiers died during World War II, thousands of young Asian women are forced to endure slavery so that ... corporate profits can be higher."

Media Resources: AP and Washington Post - January 13 and 14, 1999


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