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News ::
Festival Del Pueblo Direct Action Against Guess
07 May 2002

On the day of action at the Festival Del Pueblo, many witnessed a Guess store become the target of direct action from the anarchist black bloc. Here is an article on the criminal activity that Guess Inc. has been involved in...
On May 5th, many witnessed several hundred dollars worth of damage done to the display windows of a Guess store in Boston at the FDP march. Here is an article explaining Guess's history of exploitation against the Filipino and Chinese people.

Guess?Ö Who Is Exploiting Whom?
Saipan Sweatshops: 500 Years Of Colonial Legacy In the South Pacific

March 21st,1999

By: Lee Siu Hin
March 6th, 1999

"Hey, hey, ho, ho, Gap sweatshops have to go!" This is the message from hundreds of protests across the country, like the one in front of The Gap store near Harvard University in Cambridge, MA; and like the 300 activists crowded in front of The Gapís flagship store in downtown San Francisco, of whom 16 were arrested. They are demonstrating against 18 major American clothing companies, like The Gap, J.C Penney and Wal-Mart, as well as their subcontractors, like Tan Holdings from Hong Kong. These American labels make their products on the south Pacific island of Saipanóa US Commonwealth, with the labor of tens of thousands of Chinese and Filipino "guest" workers, who left their country to work for 36 mainly Hong Kong- and Korean-owned garment factories. For less then $3.05 per hour, over 10 hours per day, often without over time pay, workers are subject to police-state style control by the management with horrible living and working conditions. No matter how these fashion companies and their defense lawyers argues, this is no doubt the textbook definition of a sweatshop!

Although thereís a 14 percent unemployment rate among the native Saipan populations (the indigenous US-Mariana citizens), the huge supply of low-wage workers from China and the Philippines for sweatshop industries since the 1980ís has out-numbered the island population by 35,000 to 27,000. The result: a strange island economy, with 40 percent of its households poor enough to qualify for food stamps and also unemployed, yet somehow managing to afford full-time Filipino maids for their familiesóa standard of living comparable with that of the wealthiest communities in the United States. With the islandís exemption from US labor, minimum wage, and occupation and safety laws, sweatshop owners can do whatever they want. "This unusual set of rules has built Saipan into an Americanized Kuwait-where low paid, second-class foreigners do the drudge work...a national disgrace," says reporter Thomas Korosec from the Dallas Observer, in his lengthy investigative article of last year on Saipan sweatshops.

Saipan is part of the western Pacific island chain known as the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands-or CNMI, occupied by the US at the end of the World War II from Japan. In 1976, the islands gained US commonwealth status. In 1986, indigenous Marianans gained US citizen status, and the Federal government allowed the islands to design their unique political and legal system. Factory products on Saipan consider to be "Made in USA" so avoid any import duties or quarter restrictions. Yet quite different from the US mainland, they are also exempt from US minimum wage laws ($3.05/hr on Saipan) and customs restrictions, as well as its own immigration policies-supposedly to help preserve the islandís cultural identity.

Saipan, like its neighbor Guam, is a paradise for hundreds of thousands of Japanese and Korean tourists every year. However, hidden in the islandís deep forest are tens of thousands of foreign laborers, hardly seen or heard. Their hard work is not even promoted or talked about by any Saipan government, business or tourist web sites. But their work in Saipanís garment industry, where $2 billion worth of clothes is produced annually for American companies like The Gap, Inc., who also owns the Banana Republic and Old Navy chains;

Dayton-Hudson Corp., the owner of Target, Mervynís, and Marshall Fields; The May Department Stores Company; J. Crew Group, Inc.; Nordstrom, Inc.; Sears Roebuck & Company; The Limited, Inc; Tommy Hilfiger USA, Inc.; Wal-Mart Stores and so on, is not a small item in the world economy.

Unlike elsewhere in the United States, foreigners on Saipan are only allowed to obtain one-year limited work permits, like H-class visas from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The uniqueness of Saipan law allows for differences, but also opens the door to scamming and exploitation of foreign workers. Hereís how it works: Main American labels are less and less likely to produce their own clothes or shoes. Instead they send their work to subcontractors in Saipan, El Salvador, Indonesia, Vietnam and China for sewing. The garment factories in Saipan, mostly owned by Hong Kong companies, like Diorva Knitters and Tan Holdings, hire recruiting agencies in China to find workers. The agency "promises" the applicants work in US (some recruiters are even telling the workers that Saipan is a train ride away from LA), one step closer to living in the US, earning cold-hard US$$$$ and achieving the American dream. Therefore, the supply of work applicants always exceeds job demand, and the recruiters can force the workers to pay a fee ranging from $2,000 to $8,000, a so-called "recruiting fee" to obtain the jobs. Chinese workers therefore need to borrow heavily from people in their hometown to pay the fee for a chance to go to work on Saipan. Some Chinese workers, after a few years of slave labor on Saipan, may only save enough to pay back their recruitment debts, and are never able to save any money.

The factory owners know that the workers are very vulnerable to getting fired, so they can jerk them around any way they want: including refusing to pay overtime and weekend work. This is because if a worker is laid off for any reason, including protesting working conditions, union organizing, or even pregnancy, he or she must find another job within 90 days or be deported. Since the minimum wage is $3.05 per hour, anyone fired from a job is likely to be shipped home without enough money to pay off his or her debts. Therefore, the management has near-total win-win power over their workers, who live in fear of being sent home summarily, and they can make any rules they want to control the workers down to the most personal levels.

The scandal of Saipanís sweatshops, and not for the first time, exposes the dark side of some of the worldís top glamorous designer labels, where the daily salary of a top New York fashion model equals years of pay for a female sweatshop worker in Saipan, Mexico, El Salvador or Haiti.

Only the rich can afford to buy a piece of clothing with some of the top brand names, for a price equivalent to months of the workerís pay. All too often, only the poorest workers are desperate enough to join the production lines where these things are made.

The sweatshop phenomenon in the south Pacific is not the result of some kind of "accident", that some greedy pro-Adam Smith beach boys found Saipanís labor and immigration loophole is a God-given paradise for sweatshops, and didnít notice that these islands are thousands of miles away from the US mainland, Australia or China, with almost no reliable supply of labor. Nor did a fashion designer from cold New York City discover that the warm climate of the south Pacific can help stimulate them to create new design ideas. Rather this has been the United Statesí on-going "carrot and stick" policy for the region, and it intends to preserve its military, intelligence-gathering and political power in the south Pacific forever. The sweatshop scandal on Saipan is just the tip of the tropical iceberg.

Comments

But it wasn't Guess
07 May 2002
But the damage wasn't against Guses. It was against Express, the clothing store just past Guess while walking down Newbury. This was what I witnessed, and then I went by later that day to see what the stores looked like. There was a damaged Express window--Guess was fine.

Was Guess a target that was missed? Was Express a target? Or was there no target?