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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Lawsuit
18 February 2014

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

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

The 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]

Article
22 May 2013

U.S. Retailers See Big Risk in Safety Plan for Factories in Bangladesh

Author: Steven Greenhouse, New York Times

American retailers remain sharply opposed to joining an international plan to improve safety conditions at garment factories in Bangladesh as their European counterparts and consumer and labor groups dismiss the companies’ concerns about legal liability. A few shareholders at Gap’s annual meeting this week questioned the company’s refusal to sign on to a plan that commits retailers to help finance safety upgrades in Bangladesh, where 1,127 workers died when the Rana Plaza factory building collapsed on April 24…Whether the new accord would subject retailers to substantial legal risks has been debated since nearly three dozen European retailers embraced the plan last week while almost all major American companies shunned it. [also refers to Wal-Mart, Nordstrom, Target, Associated British Foods, H&M]

Read the full post here

Article
30 July 2010

[PDF] Missing the Point: A response to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce report “Think Globally, Sue Locally”

Author: EarthRights International

EarthRights International (ERI) has reviewed the June 2010 report “Think Globally, Sue Locally,” by Jonathan Drimmer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform...“Think Globally” is riddled with errors that betray the bias of the Chamber and undermine the report’s conclusions...The basic observation underlying “Thinking Globally” is sound: companies that are sued for serious human rights and environmental abuses will often face public education and advocacy campaigns in addition to the litigation. This should not be surprising; what is objectionable, rather, is Mr. Drimmer’s insinuation that campaigns are somehow manipulated or controlled by litigators to compel companies to settle weak cases case for their own financial gain. The report is so riddled with errors of fact and logic that the conclusions that it draws from this observation are anything but sound.

Read the full post here

Article
1 June 2010

[PDF] Think globally, sue locally: Out-of-court tactics employed by plaintiffs, their lawyers, and their advocates in transnational tort cases

Author: Jonathan Drimmer, Steptoe & Johnson, released by U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform

Over the past 15 years, there has been a sharp rise in lawsuits brought against United States companies, as well as foreign companies with a substantial U.S. presence, that are premised on alleged personal or environmental injuries that occur overseas...With increasing frequency, plaintiffs, their attorneys, and their advocates are employing aggressive out-of court tactics that approach, straddle, and sometimes cross ethical lines in seeking to gain litigation advantages....The tactics...have clearly demonstrable patterns. Among them are: Aggressive media tactics...Community organizing tactics...Investment tactics...Political tactics...Fraudulent misconduct...[refers to AirScan, Archer Daniels Midland, Bridgestone, Bridgestone-Firestone (part of Bridgestone), Brylane (part of Pinault Printemps-Redoute), Cargill, Chevron, Chiquita, Coca-Cola, Daimler, Del Monte Foods, Dole, Dow Chemical, Drummond, ExxonMobil, Gap, Gulf Oil, Levi Strauss, Mercedes-Benz (part of Daimler), Mobil Oil (part of ExxonMobil), Nestlé, Occidental Petroleum, Petroecuador, Pfizer, PPR (formerly Pinault-Printemps-Redoute), Rio Tinto, Shell, Target, Texaco (part of Chevron), Union Carbide (part of Dow), Unocal (part of Chevron), Wal-Mart, Yahoo!]

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Article
11 June 2009

A Win for Wiwa, a Win for Shell, a Win for Corporate Human Rights

Author: Michael Goldhaber, American Lawyer

Late Monday, on the eve of trial in New York, the parties settled in Wiwa v. Shell. For those with longer memories, it was reminiscent of March 2005, when another case hyped as the great breakthrough for corporate human rights, Doe v. Unocal, settled before trial on the merits…Absent a cathartic trial, can a winner be declared?...While the facts in dispute will never be settled, Wiwa has left its mark on law and legal culture -- and in this respect the movement for business human rights is the big winner. [also refers to Chevron, Curacao Drydock, Esmor Correctional Services, Drummond, Gap, Yahoo!]

Read the full post here

Article
14 February 2007

The Law, Slaves and Jack Abramoff

Author: Albert H. Meyerhoff, in Huffington Post [USA]

As the American industrial base continues to erode...more and more consumer goods are manufactured by foreign labor, often under conditions of slavery, indentured servitude and child labor...In the best of times, only so much can be accomplished for human rights through litigation. The courts are slow, evidence irretrievable, assets unavailable. So here's another idea: let the market work, a fully and accurately informed market. A "right to know" approach already has been successfully used to improve environmental protection.

Read the full post here

Article
16 April 2005

The ethical revolution sweeping through the world's sweatshops

Author: Maxine Frith, Independent [UK]

...after a decade of denying any wrongdoing, companies such as Nike and Gap are now admitting that their workers have been exploited and abused, and have pledged to improve the conditions [refers to steps taken by Nike, Gap, Levi Strauss]...despite some companies' repentance and reforms, other top-name brands are still using sweatshops. Among those on the target list of campaigners are Tommy Hilfiger, Umbro and Fila [part of Sport Brands International].

Read the full post here

Article
1 December 2004

[PDF] executive summary: "Business and International Crimes: Assessing the Liability of Business Entities for Grave Violations of International Law"

Author: Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science & Intl. Peace Academy

It is possible to hold business entities accountable for international crimes...but the problem of jurisdiction remains a barrier to international prosecution...Domestic courts are possible venues for assessing liability of companies operating
abroad...especially through the doctrine of complicity. [refers to Talisman, Rio Tinto, Unocal, Shell, Chevron (part of ChevronTexaco), ExxonMobil, Freeport-McMoRan, Cape plc]

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Article
1 July 2004

[DOC] Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility -- What’s That Lawyer Doing Here?

Author: Phillip H. Rudolph, Foley Hoag [USA]

...good business leaders are increasingly recognizing the importance of sustainable, socially responsible business practices as a key to effective management of their businesses and their bottom lines...Sustainability is fast becoming a critical component of the [legal] diligence and deal making process...lawyers should have a seat at the sustainability table because they...are trained to anticipate risk, legal and otherwise, and to build structures and programs that minimize or eliminate such risks. [refers to Kasky v. Nike lawsuit (USA) re claims about labour conditions]

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Article
1 June 2004

Co-op America's Retailer Scorecard

Author: Co-op America

[W]e've gone around the world with eight major players in America's retail landscape, looking at recent high-profile sweatshop abuses in their factories, and we've summarized their involvement in the accompanying chart. [refers to Federated Department Stores, Macy's (part of Federated), JC Penney, Kmart, Kohl's, May Department Stores, Sears, Target, Wal-Mart, Tarrant Apparel, Anvil Ensembles, Daewoosa, WINS Facilities, Chentex, Leader Garments (part of Makalot), Confecciones Ninos]

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