Judge rejects TNC demand to dismiss sweatshop case
From Sweatshop Watch, 29 October 2001
An American judge in the Northern Mariana Islands (a Pacific archipelago) upheld the complaint in a class action lawsuit alleging sweatshop conditions on Saipan, one of the islands.
More than 13,000 garment workers in Saipan often work 12-hour days, seven days a week, in unsafe, unclean conditions that violate U.S. labour laws and international treaties. In a 55 page decision, U.S. District Judge Alex R. Munson held that these allegations, if proven at trial, were sufficient to establish liability of both the factories and retailers for engaging in a “conspiracy” to use indentured labour in violation of racketeering laws. The case targets transnational corporations including The Gap and Target for using illegal employment methods including indentured foreign labour – many of the workers are young women from China who had to sign ‘shadow contracts’ waiving their basic human rights. These workers were also allegedly forced to pay ‘recruitment fees’ as high as US$7,000 just to go to Saipan, a U.S. protectorate, creating an indentured status that has been illegal in the USA since the nineteenth century civil war.
The court stated, “When the labour is tied to a debt owed to the employer and the employer physically coerces the worker to labour until the debt is paid or the consequences of failing to work to pay off the debt are so severe and outside the customary legal remedy that the worker is compelled to labour, a condition of peonage results, and this is the essence of plaintiffs’ allegations.”
Since the case was filed in 1999, nineteen TNCs have settled claims against them but, the factory owners, along with The Gap, Target, JC Penney, Levi-Strauss and others have blocked the other retailers’ settlements by using delaying tactics in court.
From Pacific Islands report, 19 November 2001
An estimated 9,000 foreign workers left the Northern Marianas by October 2001 according to the number of entry permits issued by the government.
This is almost a quarter of what the government refers to as ‘guest’ workers.
There are about 40,000 migrant workers in the Northern Marianas.