CALIFORNIA'S CONGRESSMAN GEORGE MILLER CONCERNED ABOUT SAIPAN GARMENT INDUSTRY ABUSES

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 11, 1999 - Agence France-Presse)---A Democratic lawmaker said Thursday he had introduced a bill in Congress aimed at stopping abuses of foreign workers on the Pacific island of Saipan, a U.S. territory.

Representative George Miller of California said his proposal is aimed at halting "the well-documented abuses" of workers, mostly from Asia, on Saipan, an island of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

Companies that have been sued for labor abuses on the island include Sears, Wal-Mart, The Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Oshkosh B’Gosh, Dayton-Hudson, The May Department Stores, Jones Apparel Group, The Limited, JC Penney, and others.

The companies are defendants in a class action lawsuit filed last month over alleged labor and immigration abuses on Saipan.

Miller, whose bill is entitled The US/CNMI Human Dignity Act, called on congressional leaders to hold hearings following an upcoming visit to the territory by a congressional delegation.

"No democracy in the world can tolerate a system in which disenfranchised, foreign workers hold all the private sector jobs while citizens possess all the power and wealth," Miller said in a statement.

"That the United States has tolerated these practices beneath the American flag is inexcusable and diminishes our standing in the world community."

Miller, who has visited the territory previously, said there had been no improvement in conditions despite "13 years of promises."

"Worker abuse claims continue to rise and the contract labor system and recruitment scams continue unabated," he said.

His bill would extend to the territory federal immigration and minimum wage laws, and would protect the integrity and intent of the "Made in USA" label and quota/duty waivers, according to his statement.

The lawsuits filed in January accuse U.S. retailers, manufacturers and designers of a "racketeering conspiracy" for using cheap labor -- mostly young women from China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Thailand -- to produce clothing in "intolerable" working conditions.

Some 50,000 alien workers are employed on Saipan, which is exempt from U.S. minimum wage and immigration laws.

Its garments have a "Made in the USA" label and enter the U.S. without tariff control. CNMI authorities are proposing a bill in the local legislature which would set up a watchdog to oversee the garment factories and guarantee workers’ rights.

Michael J Field, Agence France-Presse, Auckland, New Zealand Tel: (64 21) 688-438; Fax: (64 21) 694-035; E-Mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz WWW: http://www.afp.com/english/

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