"Made in USA"
Worker advocates, including UNITE (the needletrades union) and Global Exchange, filed suit in January against 18 companies, accusing them of mistreating 15,000 apparel workers in the Northern Marianas Islands. The firms include Tommy Hilfiger, Sears, Roebuck and Wal-Mart.
The Marianas, whose largest island is Saipan, are a U.S. colony near the Philippines. The suit charges that more than 50,000 workers have been lured to Saipan from China, the Philippines, Bangladesh and elsewhere, only to face horrible sweatshop conditions as virtual prisoners.
Employees are forced to put in seven day weeks, up to 12 hours a day, and are threatened with beatings if they object to forced overtime, according to the lawsuit. Workers' passports are confiscated upon arrival, and they often live seven to a room in dreary barracks, surrounded by barbed wire.
By locating in the Marianas, companies are able to put a "Made in the USA" label on their clothes, and to save more than $200 million a year in U.S. customs duties. In addition, the minimum wage in the Marianas is $3.05, versus $5.15 in the 50 states.
Copyright 1999 Dollars and Sense. Reprinted with permission. Subscriptions to D&S Magazine are $18.95, from 1 Summer Street, Somerville, MA 02143. Call 1-888-736-7377
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