The workers, mostly Chinese women, some of whose stories are told in the Ms. Magazine article, sew clothing for J. Jill, Elie Tahari, Ann Taylor, Liz Claiborne, The Gap, and Ralph Lauren, among others. They pay so much money to obtain work and for shelter and food, that they can labor for a decade and still not pay it back. They serve, therefore, as indentured servants, sharing rooms and beds, lacking health care, and working extra unpaid hours for the reward of being permitted to also work paid overtime. Pregnancy is unacceptable, costs of it not covered, and amateur abortion encouraged.
The island of Saipan does great business in prostitution for Asian businessmen and American soldiers. Approximately 90 percent of the prostitutes, according to Ms., are former Chinese garment workers. Others had been recruited for jobs like waitressing but were forced into prostitution instead.
Over the past decade, 29 bills in Congress have sought to apply a minimum wage standard and/or immigration law to the Mariana Islands or to deny use of "Made in USA" to items produced there. Every one of these bills has failed. Some have won support in the Senate but been blocked by the House Resources Committee. Others have won the support of a majority of House Members but still been killed in that same committee.
Guess who earned $11 million in fees from the Marianas government and garment manufacturers? A fellow by the name of Jack Abramoff. The Ms. Magazine article details his extensive lobbying of the Republican leadership in the House, and in particular of Tom Delay.
But DeLay has gone down, and there is hope that Congress, such as it is, might finally manage to act (that is, go on record as legislating reforms that Bush and Cheney will ignore). There are three bills in the House and Senate right now that would apply the U.S. minimum wage to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Ms. recommends contacting the chair and ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and Workforce and the Senate Committee on Finance. They are:
Rep. McKeon www.house.gov/writerep
Rep. Miller email@example.com
Sen. Grassley http://grassley.senate.gov/webform.htm
Sen. Baucus http://baucus.senate.gov/contact/emailform.cfm?subj=issue
Congressman Miller has asked the chair of the House Resources Committee, Rep. Richard Pombo (himself the subject of a report on ethics violations released yesterday http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/news/politics/14507254.htm ) to investigate Abramoff's lobbying on behalf of the Ann Slave Taylor Islands, the Ralph Lauren Petri Dish for Plutocratic Plundering and Prostitution.
If every American who has purchased an item of clothing made by what is essentially American slave labor were to ask Pombo to hold hearings by writing to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and by sending a letter to the editor of the Stockton Record at email@example.com it might provide some hope to the women whose stories Ms. Magazine tells.