U.S. apparel cos. lawsuit (re Saipan)

Women in garment factoryThe island of Saipan is in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI). Beginning in the 1980s, many clothing manufacturers had their garments made in Saipan because such items could be labelled “Made in the USA” and subsequently exported to the mainland US exempt from tariffs or quotas.  However, the CNMI charter allows the islands to make their own immigration and labour laws, exempting them from the majority of US federal immigration and labour regulations.  The workforce for garment manufacture is predominantly migrant labour from Asia.

In 1999, three separate lawsuits were filed in US state and federal courts against numerous American retail apparel companies and Saipan-based garment factories.  The two federal lawsuits were filed in California and the CNMI, and each lawsuit was a class action claim filed on behalf of 30,000 foreign garment workers working in Saipan.  The California federal lawsuit alleged that the defendants had engaged in unlawful conspiracies regarding involuntary servitude and criminal peonage prohibited by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and the Anti-Peonage Act.  The California federal lawsuit also made claims of forced labour and deprivation of fundamental human rights under the Alien Tort Claims Act.  The CNMI federal lawsuit alleged breaches of the Fair Labor Standards Act (related to required, unpaid overtime) and CNMI laws relating to minimum wage and workplace rights. 

The third lawsuit was filed in California state court.  This action, brought by a garment workers’ union, alleged unfair business practices under the California Business and Professions Code claiming that the public was being deceived because the garments were being advertised as “sweatshop free”.  This lawsuit also alleged that the human rights of the foreign garment workers in Saipan had been breached because the conditions in which they worked amounted to forced labour and involuntary servitude.

In 2004 all three cases were brought to a close with a $20 million settlement that included 26 retail companies and 23 Saipan garment factories.  The parties agreed upon a code of conduct, independent monitoring, and monetary compensation as part of the settlement.  Levi Strauss was the only company that did not agree to the settlement; the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their action against Levi Strauss in order to effect the settlement.  Levi Strauss resisted the settlement arguing that it had already adopted a far-reaching factory monitoring program and had a stringent code of conduct for all of its manufacturers.  The company said that any clothing made on Saipan during the time in question was made at factories which complied with Levi’s code of conduct (it stopped purchasing clothing made on Saipan in 2000).

- “Paradise Lost”, Rebecca Claren, Ms. Magazine, Spring 2006 [background on Saipan garment industry]

- “Levi’s lawsuit dropped”, Jenny Strasburg, San Francisco Chronicle, 8 Jan 2004

- “Saipan lawsuit terms OKd - Garment workers to get $20 million”, Jenny Strasburg, San Francisco Chronicle, 25 Apr 2003

- “Clothiers fold on sweatshop lawsuit”, Jenny Strasburg & Robert Collier, San Francisco Chronicle, 27 Sep 2002

- “The Saipan saga: why it could have far-reaching impact - lawsuits against sweatshops”, Alan Rolnick, Bobbin, 1 Jun 1999

- [PDF] Beneath the American Flag: Labor and Human Rights Abuses in the CNMI, Report from George Miller and the Democratic Staff of the House Resources Committee, 26 Mar 1998

 

- Gap Inc.: Social Responsibility - Case Studies: Saipan

- Global Exchange: The Saipan Victory  

- Global Exchange: Summary of the Saipan Sweatshop Litigation, Michael Rubin (plaintiffs’ attorney), 10 Oct 2000

- Clean Clothes Campaign: Saipan Sweatshop Lawsuit Ends with Important Gains for Workers and Lessons for Activists, Nikki F. Bas (Sweatshop Watch), Medea Benjamin (Global Exchange), Joannie C. Chang (Asian Law Caucus), 8 Jan 2004 [includes partial list of parties who settled]

 

- US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, Doe et al. v. The Gap, Inc. et al.:

- [PDF] Order denying in part & granting in party defendant Levi Strauss’ motion to dismiss, 17 Dec 2002

- [PDF] Order granting class certification, consolidating cases, granting plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary approval of settlements, etc., 10 May 2002

- [PDF] Order granting in part and denying in part defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ second amended complaint, 10 May 2002

- [PDF] Order re motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ first amended complaint, 26 Nov 2001

- [PDF] Order re motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ first amended complaint, 29 Oct 2001

- California Superior Court, County of San Francisco, Union of Needletrades et al. v. The Gap et al.

- [PDF] Judgment Pursuant to Stipulations of Dismissal, 28 May 2003

- List of documents filed in court

- US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: Does v. Advanced Textile Corp., 2 Jun 2000 [upholding class status]

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Article
16 May 2002

U.S. clothing giants suffer blow from Saipan case rulings

Author: Nancy Cleeland, The Age [Australia] / Los Angeles Times

A group of United States retailers, including Gap, J. C. Penney and Target, suffered a setback this week when a federal judge ruled that thousands of garment workers on the Pacific island of Saipan could sue the companies and their contracted factories as a class. The group also failed to block a US$ 8.7 million settlement by 19 other retailers, including Tommy Hilfiger and Liz Claiborne, which sets a strict code of conduct and opens up factories on the island to independent monitoring.

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Article
15 May 2002

Garment workers granted class action status in sweatshop suit [USA-Saipan]

Author: AP

Foreign garment workers have gained class action status in a federal racketeering lawsuit alleging sweatshop conditions in factories here that supply U.S. retailers, including the Gap.

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Article
15 May 2002

Saipan judge certifies suit as class action: Ruling in dispute over garment factories a rebuff to Gap, Levi

Author: Jenny Strasburg, San Francisco Chronicle

...Defendants opposing the settlement included more than a dozen Saipan factory owners and nine retailers: Lane Bryant, the Limited, Abercrombie & Fitch, Target, J.C. Penney, and Talbots, in addition to Gap and Levi...However, with Munson's class-action certification, attorneys seeking to represent about 30,000 factory workers can move closer toward the preliminary settlement that has already been approved by 19 retailers. They include the Gymboree Corp. of Burlingame, Sears Roebuck and Co., Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein [now part of Phillips-Van Heusen], Nordstrom, Liz Claiborne and Polo Ralph Lauren.

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Article
10 May 2002

Sweatshops Under the American Flag

Author: editorial, New York Times

[refers to labour abuses at garment factories in American Samoa & Saipan]

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Article
11 March 2002

Summary of the Saipan Sweatshop Litigation

Author: Michael Rubin, Global Exchange website

[update regarding 3 lawsuits filed on behalf of thousands of workers who are currently working and formerly worked on the island of Saipan - 19 companies have settled; the following companies have not settled: GAP, Abercrombie and Fitch, Dayton Hudson [now Target], Levis, the Limited [part of Limited Brands], and JC Penney]

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Article
2 March 2002

Gap resists settlement of Saipan sweatshop suit

Author: Jenny Strasburg, San Francisco Chronicle

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Article
1 December 2001

Litigation Update: A Summary of Recent Developments in U.S. Cases Brought Under the Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Protection Act

Author: Jennifer Green [staff attorney at Center for Constitutional Rights] and Paul Hoffman [civil rights attorney and editor of ACLU International Civil Liberties Report], in ACLU International Civil Liberties Report 2001 [American Civil Liberties Union]

[includes updates on human rights-related lawsuits against Unocal, Chevron, Royal Dutch/Shell, Southern Peru Copper Corporation, Rio Tinto, Union Carbide, Pfizer, various U.S. apparel retailers & manufacturers of clothing produced in Saipan factories, Gap, Talisman Energy, Coca-Cola, Texaco, DynCorp, ExxonMobil]

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Article
29 October 2001

Saipan workers' class action lawsuit will proceed to trial

Author: Sweatshop Watch

[Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, USA] - First Case to Hold Retailers Accountable for Factory Sweatshop Abuses Will Proceed to Trial: In a closely-watched human rights case, a U.S. District Judge in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands today upheld the complaint in a class action lawsuit alleging sweatshop conditions on the Western Pacific Island of Saipan. This ruling allows the case to proceed to trial.

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Article
13 October 2001

Sweatshop Case May Grow - Courts [Saipan]

Author: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times

Companies in Saipan [Northern Mariana Islands - U.S. territory] are ordered to identify workers for a class-action suit. - The U.S. District Court in Saipan signed an order this week opening the door to more potential plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging widespread sweatshop abuses in the island's garment trade.

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Article
15 May 2000

Summary of the Saipan Sweatshop Litigation

Author: Sweatshop Watch

[Saipan (Northern Mariana Islands, USA): Gap and other retailers: case in U.S. court regarding the companies' conduct in Saipan]

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