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In 1999, three lawsuits were filed against U.S. clothing companies for unlawful sweatshop conditions in the Saipan garment industry. 26 U.S. companies have been named for engaging in unlawful business practices, including violating minimum wage laws and laws protecting basic workplace rights, falsely advertising their garments as "Sweatshop Free," and aiding and abetting Saipan garment factories in violating laws against involuntary servitude.

A condition of "indentured slavery" exists in the garment sweatshops predominantly through the usage of "recruitment" fees. In Saipan, a fee of $2,000 to $10,000 per worker is charged to the worker as a condition of obtaining employment in the garment factories. Therefore, the worker is effectively forced to keep working in order to pay off the enormous debt they were forced to incur in order to get the job in the first place.

The companies that have settled the lawsuit so far are:

Abercrombie and Fitch
Brooks Brothers
Brylane, L.P.
Calvin Klein, Inc.
Cutter & Buck, Inc.
Donna Karan International Inc.
The Dress Barn, Inc.
The Gymboree Corp.
J. Crew Group Inc.
Jones Apparel Group, Inc.
Liz Claiborne, Inc.
The May Department Stores Company
Nordstrom Inc.
Oshkosh B'Gosh, Inc.
Phillips-Van Heusen Corp.
Polo Ralph Lauren Corp.
Sears Roebuck and Company
Tommy Hilfiger U.S.A., Inc.
Warnaco Group, Inc.
Woolrich, Inc.

The companies that have not settled are:

GAP Inc.
Dayton Hudson/Associated Merchandising Corp. (Target and Mervyns)
J.C. Penney
Lane Bryant (The Limited)

The settlements provide for prospective relief (including the new Saipan Code of Conduct, with detailed standards for living and working), retroactive relief for workers whose rights have already been violated, and on-site monitoring by Verite, a non-profit international human rights monitoring organization, to make sure that all contractors and factories of the settling retailers adhere strictly to the standards. Most importantly, the settlement agreement includes provisions strictly regulating "recruitment" fees, limiting the type of fees and the amount that can be charged and banning any provisions in worker contracts that take away fundamental rights such as the right to go to church or to get pregnant.

None of the settlements can take effect until they receive court approval. Hopefully soon.

source: www.globalexchange.org

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