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Eight more U.S. retailers settle sweatshop suit

March 28, 2000

HONOLULU (Reuters) - Eight more major U.S. clothing retailers have agreed to settle a class action lawsuit which alleges sweatshop labor conditions in the U.S. territory of Saipan, a spokesman for the plaintiffs said Tuesday.

The companies -- Calvin Klein Inc., Jones Apparel Group, Liz Claiborne Inc., The May Department Stores Company, Oshkosh B Gosh Inc., Sears, Roebuck and Company, Tommy Hilfiger USA Inc., and Warnaco, Inc. -- join nine others in agreeing to pay a total of some $8 million and adhere to a system of independent monitoring at the Saipan factories of contractors who produce their clothing.

The suit before a Hawaii court is the first attempt to use federal racketeering laws to hold U.S. companies accountable for mistreatment of workers in foreign-owned factories operating on U.S. soil.

The defendants, which have included a host of the best-known clothing makers in the United States, have been accused of allowing mistreatment of thousands of workers on Saipan, a South Pacific island territory.

Earlier this month, plaintiffs added a number of new clothing makers to the original group of defendants, indicating that they aimed to enforce sweeping new workplace standards throughout Saipan.

Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights group which is one of the plaintiffs in the suit, hailed the new settlement agreement but blasted a number of hold-outs, including The Gap, who have refused to sign.

"It's terribly disappointing that Gap and the other holdout defendants refuse to make a similar commitment to end workplace abuses in Saipan," Global Exchange founding director Medea Benjamin said. "These companies clearly have the resources and the responsibility to clean up the factories where their clothes are made."

A spokeswoman for Gap did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Other major companies which have not settled the case include J.C. Penney, Target and Lane Bryant, a division of Limited Inc., according to the plaintiffs.

The settlement provides that in future supply contracts, retailers will require factories to comply with strict employment standards, including guaranteeing overtime pay for overtime work, providing safe food and drinking water, and agreeing to honor employees' basic human rights.

The settlement agreement requires court approval and does not involve an admission of wrongdoing by the defendants.

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