Women Forced to Work
20/20 special investigation
April 1, 2000
|Workers toil at sewing machines on the main assembly floor of a garment plant in Saipan. (credit: Charles Hanley/AP Photo)|
A Senate subcommittee on Tuesday heard testimony that there may be what amounts to a Chinese or Korean labor camp on American territory.
On the Pacific island of Saipan, tens of thousands of workers churn out clothes each year for big American clothing companies, including The Gap and Ralph Lauren.
ABCNEWS Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross has found that legal loopholes allow foreign workers to be shipped in to face conditions that few Americans would tolerate.
Most of the workers are "young women from China who have been promised by recruiters that they are going to good jobs in America," Ross reported.
"Instead many find themselves kept behind barbed wire, in rat-infested labor camps, and put to work in huge Chinese- and Korean-owned garment factories--often under sweatshop conditions--making clothes for the American market," he said.
The clothes can legally be labeled "Made in the USA."
It's all possible because Saipan is allowed to set its own immigration policy--a policy that Clinton administration officials told the subcommittee is out of control and must be changed.
"It has created a plantation economy, dependent on the massive importation on a continuing basis of low-paid, vulnerable, short-term indentured workers," said Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. "That's not American."
Officials on Tuesday also confirmed what an ABCNEWS 20/20 investigation had found--that pregnant garment workers on Saipan are forced to have abortions to keep their jobs.
"When I told them I was pregnant, they told me to have an abortion," said Tu Xiao Mei, a woman who lost her job after refusing an abortion.
"With 11,000 Chinese workers here, I have never seen a Chinese garment factory worker have a baby," said human rights worker Eric Gregoire.
Saipan's governor, Pedro Tenorio, told the senators he knows there are problems but is still opposed to any change in the law.
"I am deeply concerned that a federal takeover will have a disastrous effect on our economy," he said.
Saipan has spent millions on Washington lobbyists and given top Republicans in Congress free trips to the beautiful Pacific island, including one over Christmas for House Majority Whip Tom DeLay.
"You represent everything that is good about what we're trying to do in America," he told outgoing Governor Froilan Tenorio, a distant cousin of the current governor, at a dinner in Saipan this past New Year's eve.
DeLay and other Republicans have vowed to fight to keep the laws the way they are on Saipan.