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NATIONAL | summer 2006

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


Learn More ...

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

The whir of hundreds of sewing machines reverberates in the thick, dusty air at the RIFU garment factory... More

Saipan In The News...

House Republicans Introduce New Minimum Wage Legislation

Interior Official Charged in Abramoff Probe

Kennedy Adds Amendment to Raise Minimum Wage, Includes Mariana Islands

Proposed Labor Bill to Confront Human Rights Violations in Mariana Islands

“Article ignores the great strides we’ve made.” That was the headline in the Saipan Tribune in response to the Spring 2006 Ms. cover story on abusive garment sweatshops, forced abortions and sex trafficking in the Northern Mariana Islands (of which Saipan is the largest).

The article quoted the Northern Marianas’ Washington, D.C., representative, Pedro A. Tenorio, who called our investigative report “unfair and inaccurate.” Richard Pierce, special assistant to the governor of the Northern Marianas for economic affairs and a former executive director of the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association, further accused Ms. of sensationalism. The article did not credibly refute any of Ms.’s charges, however, and one must note that the publisher of the Tribune is Tan Holdings Corp.—the well-known owner of garment factories in the islands.

Meanwhile, more scandal involving Abramoff, his allies and the Northern Marianas has emerged. Tony Rudy, former deputy chief of staff to Rep. Tom DeLay and associate of Abramoff’s on the Marianas lobbying account, has pled guilty to charges of conspiring to corrupt public officials, and violating lobbying laws governing former congressional staff.

A report in the Washington Post has revealed that former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed’s direct-mail firm, Millennium Marketing, was hired in 1999 to send out mailers to conservative Christians in Alabama, imploring them to urge that Republican Rep. Bob Riley vote against House bills that would have increased the minimum wage in the Marianas and corrected other worker abuses. The mailer proclaimed that Chinese workers on the islands “are exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ” and “converted to the Christian faith and return to China with Bibles in hand.” According to a spokesperson for Reed, he was unaware of the 1998 Department of the Interior report which documented stories of Chinese workers forced to have abortions if they became pregnant while working in the islands.

Most recently, Rev. Chris Geeslin, an evangelical Christian minister and former president of the U.S. Family Network—a now-defunct nonprofit advocacy group set up by Abramoff associate and former DeLay chief of staff Ed Buckham—claims he was used by Abramoff, DeLay and Buckham. The U.S. Family Network was established to promote “moral fitness” but, according to numerous press accounts, relatively little of the money it raised was spent on public education or advocacy; instead, hundreds of thousands of dollars were paid in fees to Buckham’s lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group, and the cash purchase of a townhouse rented out to Buckham’s firm and DeLay’s political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC). Much of the money the U.S. Family Network took in appears to have come from various Abramoff clients, including at least half a million dollars in contributions from Marianas textile executives. “So here we are… pro-family… and we’re taking money from a group that’s involved in forced abortions, forced prostitution and, you know, just terrible work conditions in general,” Geeslin told National Public Radio. “These are all things that are absolutely counter to the Christian ideal.”

Meanwhile, Rep. George Miller has reintroduced the United States– Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Human Dignity Act (H.R. 5550) to increase wages and improve working conditions on the islands, ensuring that factories do not “employ individuals under conditions of indentured servitude.” The National Council of Women’s Organizations, the Feminist Majority and anti-sweatshop advocates UNITE-HERE, Global Exchange and Sweatshop Watch have also joined forces to push for these reforms.

Katherine Spillar is the Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine.