By Anne Rittman Hoya Staff Writer

Students and faculty gathered Wednesday evening to hear Chie Abad, a former Saipan sweatshop worker, speak about the conditions of offshore garment factories as well as discuss the political ramifications of sweatshop labor.

Abad, a Filipino accountant, found work in a factory on the small island of Saipan in the Mariana Islands, located in the South Pacific. Abad worked for a Korean contract company, producing clothing for Gap, Inc. and collegiate apparel. Since Saipan is a protectorate of the United States similar to Puerto Rico, manufacturers who purchase manufactured goods in Saipan may use a label claiming “Made in USA.” However, U.S. labor laws are not enforced on the island, according to Abad.

According to Abad, employees paid fees of up to $7,000 to obtain a job on Saipan. Forty thousand workers have emigrated from various Asian countries; their exodus is the result of a scarcity of employment opportunities in their countries.

In the factories, according to Abad, supervisors provided safety equipment, masks to aid breathing and fresh water only during infrequent inspections, which were announced in advance. Doors were kept locked in the factory and barbed wire surrounded the dormitory housing the 500 workers. Laborers worked at least 12 hours a day, seven days a week, except during the summer months when 16-hour days were kept to meet production goals. Managers threatened women with termination if they became pregnant and required the signing of a contract promising not to join a labor union, Abad said.

“After six years of service, they fired me,” said Abad. “They called me a troublemaker . which I guess I am.” She moved to the United States and is participating in a series of lawsuits against clothing manufacturers, the most recent of which will go to trial in Honolulu during June. “I became crazy . crazy in a way to tell American people what is going on in their own country,” Abad said.

In January 2000, a $1 billion class-action lawsuit was settled against 18 major U.S. retailers including the Gap, Banana Republic, Nordstrom’s, J. Crew, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren. While most of the defendants agreed to a settlement, Gap, Inc. has not. Abad urged students not to boycott the Gap and other offending retailers but instead to call the corporations with demands to settle the suit.

Abad also attacked the Fair Labor Association, of which Georgetown is a member. “We sewed sweatshirts with ‘Cal’ on the front. When I came to the U.S., I recognized that, Cal, that it was in California. We did that.”

Abad repeatedly urged students to pressure University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., to leave the FLA. “The FLA is controlled by factories,” said Abad. “It must be controlled by a human rights group.”

The Georgetown Solidarity Committee announced after the lecture that they want O’Donovan to get out of the FLA and into the Workers’ Rights Consortium by March 28. The WRC is a non-profit organization that supports and verifies licensee information with production codes of conduct developed by U.S. colleges and universities. According to Vanessa Waldref (COL ’02) of the GSC, a “big rally” is planned for March 28 if O’Donovan maintains relations with the FLA.

Abad also invited all Georgetown students to participate in the rally on April 16 and 17 in Washington to challenge the triumvirate of global economy, the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization and the World Bank.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.