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FEATURE | spring 2006

Paradise Lost
Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists

Spring 2006 CoverThat expensive blouse you’re wearing? It may have been sewn by a Filipina garment worker laboring in a factory owned by a Hong Kong mogul on a western Pacific island. The Northern Mariana Islands, a territory of the United States, offers the possibility of an American label — Made in Saipan (USA), Made in Northern Mariana Islands (USA), or simply Made in USA — to garment manufacturers, and throws in a unique exemption from U.S. minimum-wage and immigration laws.

Anti-sweatshop leaders and some members of Congress have long sought to increase wages and protect the islands’ garment workers, most of whom are women, from what amounts to indentured servitude. But their efforts were repeatedly stalled in Congress. And who was among the biggest opponents of reform? None other than the notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose tentacles reached deep into House Republican leadership. And who was one of the loudest congressional cheerleaders against reform? Tom DeLay, who praised the islands as “a petri dish of capitalism.”

Help stop the exploitation of women
workers in the Northern Mariana Islands! Write your Senators now!

In the midst of what could be the largest congressional scandal in history, Ms. sent an investigative team to the Northern Marianas to examine firsthand the consequences of these lobbying efforts and congressional inaction on real women’s lives. Plus, we wanted to track down reports of forced abortions on the islands. Could it be that virulent opponents of abortion, such as DeLay, were contributing to conditions where desperate pregnant workers had no choice but to have an abortion? Continue to the full article

Listen to Rebecca Clarren and Ms. Executive Editor Katherine Spillar discuss this article on "Fresh Air" on NPR!

Updates:
Will U.S. Right Saipan Wrongs? - Ms. Spring 2007 - Congress voted to raise wages; now considers more protections for exploited garment workers

Young Trafficking Victim in the Marianas Tells Her Story - 2/12/2007 - Ms. magazine conducted an exclusive interview with a young woman from the Philippines who was forced to work in a brothel in the Mariana Islands. 

Senate Hearing Airs Abuses of Women Laborers in Marianas - 2/12/2007 - The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Thursday to examine whether the labor and immigration abuses in the Northern Marianas warrant additional legislative reform by Congress. 

Hearings Held on Conditions in Mariana Islands - 2/9/2007 - The US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held hearings yesterday on the labor, immigration, law enforcement, and economic conditions in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Saipan Revisited - Ms. Summer 2006 - Ms. cover story sparks ire and action; more Abramoff scandals uncovered.

Senate Passes Minimum Wage Bill - 2/2/2007 - The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 passed the United States Senate yesterday on a vote of 94-3 after nine days of debate.

Minimum Wage Raise Delayed in Senate - 1/25/2007 - A bill to raise the US minimum wage, which passed the House of Representatives earlier this month without amendments, is in its fifth day of debate in the Senate.

Feminists Celebrate Successful 100 Hours - 1/19/2007 - Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) gathered yesterday with Democratic leaders and supporters to celebrate the successful completion of her agenda for the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress.
House Passes Minimum Wage Increase, Senate Expected to Vote Soon - 1/11/2007 - Under the new leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the 110th Congress voted yesterday to raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15-an-hour to $7.25-an-hour by 2009.
House Democrats Poised to Introduce Mariana Islands Wage Hike Bill - 1/3/2007 - House Democrats, led by Education and Workforce Committee Chairman George Miller (CA), intend to introduce legislation early in the new Congress that would raise the minimum wage for workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Abramoff Emails Link Mehlman to Mariana Islands - 10/17/2006 - The House Government Committee has just released e-mails from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff which indicate that Abramoff tried to use his connections with then White House Political Director Ken Mehlman (who is currently the chair of the Republican National Committee) to have State Department employee Allen Stayman fired.
Christian Coalition Leader Loses Big in Primary for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia - 07/22/2006 - Former Christian Coalition Leader and chairman of the Georgia Republican Party Ralph Reed lost the primary for the Lieutenant Governor of Georgia yesterday.
House Republicans Introduce New Minimum Wage Legislation - 7/18/06 - House of Representative Republicans on Thursday introduced their own version of legislation increasing the federal minimum wage.
Interior Official Charged in Abramoff Probe - 6/29/2006 - An official with the US Department of the Interior has been charged with a misdemeanor account of falsely claiming that he did not receive any prohibited gifts in 2003 in a financial filing.
Kennedy Adds Amendment to Raise Minimum Wage, Includes Mariana Islands - 6/20/2006 - Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) has offered an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill that would raise the minimum wage for American workers from $5.15 to $7.25 over about two years, including workers in the US territory of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
Proposed Labor Bill to Confront Human Rights Violations in Mariana Islands - 6/8/2006 - In a press conference yesterday, several members of Congress announced the introduction of labor law legislation to address women's rights and human rights abuses taking place on the US territory of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).