Anyone heard of Saipan? Do you know where it is? 

There is is! It’s a minuscule island off the coast of the Philippines/Japan that is actually a US commonwealth. Now name some companies that everyone in America knows of. Target, WalMart, Gap, etc.  Chances are, they use a strategic globalized strategy. They outsource their labor to underdeveloped countries because of the low costs and essentially no labor standards. Corporate businesses exploit the weak regulations, violating human and labor rights on a daily basis. The American territory actually has exemptions from the American federal duties, allowing them to abuse labor and wage regulations. Women in particular are taken advantage of, with the corporate bosses withholding pay for months at a time. Just like in any sweatshop, the workers are subject to horrible working conditions—an unsanitary environment, forced overtime, minimal pay, you name it.

Saipan’s situation shows how globalization is affecting society in a negative way, and workers are being exploited and taken advantage of so that companies can earn a bigger profit. How have we let situations like this continue to go on? It’s ironic almost to think that America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, but in a US territory, we are almost enslaving their workers. How did this happen? Saipan is also by no means the only country that exploits its workers, but it shocks me that this is able to happen when Saipan is a US commonwealth. One would think that because it is an American territory it would be held to American working standards. Apparently this is not the case since the factories in Saipan are “exempt” from these duties.

Luckily there were efforts to put a stop to the working conditions in Saipan. After a three-year struggle between advocates for sweatshop workers and large corporate apparel companies, 26 major retailers settled a lawsuit targeting Saipan’s working conditions. According to Global Exchange, 19 of the 26 companies motioned to settle the lawsuit initially, but some companies simply refused, dragging the process out a few more years. Instead of being socially responsible and changing the working conditions of their workers, they preferred to capitalize on the lack of working standards just so that there could be lower labor costs. The suit comprises of $20 million that will be paid to workers in back wages, and the companies have also agreed to implement a Code of Conduct, Independent Monitoring, Worker’s Compensation and Repatriation. It seems that globalization may have led to corporations exploiting and capitalizing on their workers, but at least there are efforts to try to un-do the effects that it has caused.

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5 responses »

  1. Connie says:

    I think it it’s really interesting that you chose to focus on labor issues that arise in US commonwealths. We’ve focused so much on the other countries that U.S. corporations outsource too, but I think it’s important to draw attention to U.S. territories and commonwealths as well. While you don’t say it explicitly, I feel like you’d agree with my opinion that facilities in U.S. commonwealths and territories should have to abide by the same labor regulations that manufacturers operating in the continental U.S. It just seems silly that these commonwealths can suddenly be “exempt” from these duties. What does this say about how the U.S. values human life? It comes off like the U.S. doesn’t care about the lives of the workers just because they aren’t physically within the confines of the United States. It’s unfortunate that globalization is a concept that’s supposed to help the world progress and become more culturally cognizant, but has become an idea that bears so many unforeseen consequences.

    • Hannah says:

      I think that this situation makes us as Americans look horrible and that we really don’t have any moral values. Granted, this happened some time ago and there has been improvement in the working conditions there, but I am still appalled that we thought we were exempt from keeping up standards in the first place. I think that anything that has the American name attached to it (US commonwealth) should have to live up to American standards, regardless of the physical location.

      • Jeff Galloway says:

        I couldn’t agree more with your last point. If other countries, run by completely separate governments choose to have lower labor requirements, then I believe it’s a personal/company decision whether or not outsourcing there is ok. But when it’s a territory owned by the US, the fact that they have such awful labor standards really is terrible.

  2. KCasty says:

    Great use of the graphic!

  3. Mike says:

    It is embarrassing how business and politics are operating in Saipan and CNMI. The U.S. government was fully aware of what is happening there while it is in political union with them, yet there is much resistance from them to bring our laws to the commonwealth. They seem to support the immoral fact that our economy will benefit from the advantages of cheap labor, like Nike did in China and Indonesia, yet still slap a “Made in America” sticker on the products, hiding the truths behind how it was actually made. The ironic thing is that most of these workers are not even American, but Chinese immigrants. US Senator Daniel Akaka commented on CNMI’s immigration on March 31, 1998 saying:

    “The Commonwealth shares our American flag, but it does not share the American system of immigration. There is something fundamentally wrong with a CNMI immigration system that issues permits to recruiters, who in turn promise well-paying American jobs to foreigners in exchange for a $6,000 recruitment fee. When the workers arrive in Saipan, they find their recruiter has vanished and there are no jobs in sight. Hundreds of these destitute workers roam the streets of Saipan with little or no chance of employment and no hope of returning to their homeland. The State Department has confirmed that the government of China is an active participant in the CNMI immigration system. There is something fundamentally wrong with an immigration system that allows the government of China to prohibit Chinese workers from exercising political or religious freedom while employed in the United States. Something is fundamentally wrong with a CNMI immigration system that issues entry permits for 12- and 13-year-old girls from the Philippines and other Asian nations, and allows their employers to use them for live sex shows and prostitution. Finally, something is fundamentally wrong when a Chinese construction worker asks if he can sell one of his kidneys for enough money to return to China and escape the deplorable working conditions in the Commonwealth and the immigration system that brought him there.”

    Just like Nike and other companies were criticized for, our own government is participating in the advantages that globalization provides on our own soil.

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