The island of Saipan is part of a U.S. Commonwealth, located in the Pacific, near Guam and the Philipines. Because of this, clothes made there can carry the “Made in the U.S.A” label, although that’s just a technicality. These clothes can also come into the U.S. tariff-free and quota-free, to highly profitable U.S. markets. What Saipan doesn’t have, though, is coverage by U.S. labor laws, or U.S. immigration laws, which makes this something like heaven to the garment industry, who have set up massive sweatshops and reaped huge profits. Clothes made there include Tommy Hilfiger USA, Gap (which includes Old Navy and Banana Republic), Calvin Klein and Liz Claiborne.
Here’s what’s going on in the sweatshops; women are recruited into them from China and the Philipines. The women pay their life savings to get into them, thinking that they are going to the United States. Instead they’re taken to Saipan, where the make less than half the U.S. minimum wage. Many of them have to “pay off” their entrance fee but can never earn enough to pay their “debt” so they are basically indentured servants, or slave labor. There is evidence that some of the women are forced to participate in sex rings. The ABC undercover reports on this identified one 14 year-old girl who was forced to dance nude on stage and perform sex acts. Women who get pregnant are forced to have abortions. (Culture of life, indeed.)
Here’s where Tom DeLay comes in. When he was House Republican Whip, he prevented legislation to reform the labor laws of Saipan, although that legislation has already passed the Senate. Lobbyist Jack Abramoff paid for DeLay to go on a golfing trip to the U.S. commonwealth (that’s illegal, BTW) where DeLay said in an address to the sweatshop owners: “You are a shining light for what is happening to the Republican Party, and you represent everything that is good about what we are trying to do in America and leading the world in the free-market system.”
Now I’m suddenly really uncomfortable in all my Gap and Old Navy clothes. These are the kind of sleepless nights that the “Made in the U.S.A.” label is supposed to prevent.