US sweatshops: Workers beaten and starved

Submitted by Anon on 19 March, 2003 - 9:46

By Mark Osborn

Vietnamese and Chinese workers are being recruited to work in sweatshop factories in America's Pacific territories. Attracted by the promise of good wages, the workers find themselves trapped in brutal sweatshops to make designer clothes for the US retail market and where they are beaten and starved.

Last week a court in Washington found one boss, Lee Kil-soo, from the Daewoosa Samoa factory guilty of human trafficking.

Lee, who will be sentenced on 9 June, owned the factory, near American Samoa's capital, Pago Pago. It employed 251 immigrant workers from Vietnam and China in appalling conditions. Workers were paid $200 (£126) a month for room and board, for which they received a bunk in a cramped, 36-bed dormitory and three meagre meals a day.

Pay was routinely withheld, and when workers went on strike to recover their lost earnings Daewoosa's managers switched off the electricity, making conditions in the overheated compound unbearable.

During the worst dispute in November 2000, Lee allegedly authorised Samoan managers to make an example of one of the Vietnamese seamstresses. Quyen Truong was dragged from her sewing machine by several men, before a Samoan employee gouged out her eye with a plastic pipe.

Charles Kernaghan, the director of the national labour committee in Washington, says that American Samoa's ambiguous status makes it the perfect location for labour exploitation. More than 7,000 miles from Washington, the territory is so remote that American labour inspectors say they cannot even afford to pay for the journey to examine work conditions.

But Charles Kernaghan argues, "There's no way out of this without laws," he says. "It will never be cleaned up by corporations monitoring themselves - it's too easy for them," he says.

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