Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Gap, Penney's Settle Sweatshop Suit

MINNEAPOLIS, Sept. 26, 2002

J.C. Penney Co. is one of the retailers agreeing to the settlement. (AP)

In addition to Target and Gap, the new settlements involve J.C. Penney Co., Abercrombie & Fitch, Lane Bryant, The Limited and Talbots.

(AP) Target Corp., Gap Inc. and five other U.S. retailers that buy clothing made on Saipan and 23 manufacturers on Thursday agreed to pay $11.25 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging factory sweatshop conditions.

The settlement would assure consumers who buy clothing labeled "Made in the U.S.A." that the workers who sew the clothes on Saipan, part of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, are protected by American law, said lawyer Michael Rubin, one of the lead attorneys for the workers.

Nineteen other retailers previously reached settlements totaling $8.75 million.

In addition to Target and Gap, the new settlements involve J.C. Penney Co., Abercrombie & Fitch, Lane Bryant, The Limited and Talbots. One defendant, Levi Strauss & Co., has not agreed to the settlement but has stopped buying garments from Saipan.

The companies, which did not admit wrongdoing, agreed to adopt a code of conduct and pay for independent monitoring of factories on Saipan, a 13-mile long island in the Pacific about 3,700 miles southwest of Hawaii.

Under the settlement, each company will make a one-time contribution to a fund that will finance the monitoring program and compensate more than 30,000 garment workers. The fund also will cover administration costs and pay attorneys' fees.

A panel of three retired judges will be set up to oversee monitoring, with the power to make unannounced factory inspections and investigate worker complaints. The judges can order payment of back wages, establish corrections for violations and place manufacturers on probation for repeated noncompliance with the rules.

Thursday's agreement, if approved by the federal court, brings the total settlement fund to more than $20 million.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 30,000 immigrant workers from nearby Asian countries, alleged a pattern of long hours, low pay and other objectionable working conditions in Saipan's garment factories, which produce more than $1 billion worth of clothing sold annually in U.S. stores.

The manufacturers agreed to comply with strict employment standards, including a guarantee of extra pay for overtime work, safe food and drinking water and other basic workers' rights. Workers who want to return to their home countries will be eligible for up to $3,000 in relocation fees.

Al Meyerhoff, co-counsel for the workers, said the plaintiffs hope to fold the 19 retailers who settled earlier into the new agreement, under which the International Labor Organization, an arm of the United Nations, would monitor the factories.

"The new agreement is far tougher," Meyerhoff said.

A hearing is scheduled in Saipan in late October where the court will be asked to give preliminary approval to the settlement. Notices then will be sent to workers giving them a chance to comment. Final settlement approval will probably come early next year, Meyerhoff said.

"We're pleased to have helped develop an enhanced monitoring program that includes remediation efforts and has the full support of the manufacturers," said Lauri Shanahan, general counsel for Gap. She said the program complements Gap's efforts to improve factory conditions.

James Hale, executive vice president and general counsel of Target, maintained that the Minneapolis-based company's own factory monitoring program was already accomplishing the same goals.

"There was no evidence ever produced of the egregious violations that were alleged," Hale said. Target settled to rid itself of the mounting costs of the lawsuit, he said. Hale declined to say how much Target has spent on its defense.

"This isn't about whether we care about factory conditions. We care a great deal about them," Hale said. "This was just a case brought by class action lawyers to stir up publicity and they did it."

Meyerhoff, however, said the settlement mandates far tougher monitoring and conduct standards than any retailer has adopted.

"I find it extraordinarily unfortunate that Target alone has chosen to be the skunk at the picnic here and would disparage what all of us worked so hard to accomplish," Meyerhoff said.

A report by the U.S. Department of Interior says factories doing business with Target have been cited numerous times for violations such as unsafe wiring, lack of needle guards on sewing machines, blocked aisles and inadequately marked exits, Meyerhoff said. Audits of those factories also have revealed that workers weren't paid for all hours they work, were penalized for not meeting quotas and were required to work long hours without a break, he said.

© MMII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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