Archive for the ‘garment industry’ Category

Marianas Update: End to guest worker program

July 3, 2007

A Senate bill has been introduced to end the guest worker program in the CNMI. Guest worker visas are notoriously problematic because a worker’s legal status is at the whim of their employer. Complain about working conditions? Complain about not being paid? Complain about sexual harrassment on the job? You get fired. Get fired? You’ll be deported.

On its face, then, getting rid of the guest worker program is a good idea — and in fact, progressive opposition to Congress’s most recent immigration package is based on the fact that it included new programs for temporary guest workers. (To be vigorously distinguished from regressive opposition to the package, which was based on Oh My God Scary Brown People.)

However. The proposed changes to immigration status for foreign workers in the CNMI are not good for workers. Under the bill, guest workers who have been employed in the Marianas for five years will be eligible to apply for “lawful non-immigrant status”. The key word here is non-immigrant. Non-immigrant status is a temporary condition. Under the terms of this bill, there is no provision for immigrant workers to apply for legal immigrant status. There is no path to a green card and then citizenship.

Non-immigrants are not eligible for federal assistance should they become unemployed. So the net effect for a worker who speaks out against her employer is the same. If you complain about your employer and get fired, good luck finding a job in another CNMI factory. So you want to strike out for the mainland?

Nothing in the immigration laws shall be construed to authorize or require any alien who has been admitted to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands pursuant to a Northern Mariana Islands-only visa or in any other status limited to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to be admitted to or permitted to enter any other part of the United States unless such admission or entry is otherwise authorized by the immigration laws.

Bad luck. You’re still stuck without decent legal protection.


Liz Claiborne

June 28, 2007

has died. She was 78.

Her company was the first founded by a woman to be included on the Fortune 500 list, and in many ways, her design aesthetic was all about women breaking into a man’s world.

At a time when conventional wisdom — and John T. Molloy of “Dress for Success” — had businesswomen dressing like slightly curvier men in gray flannel suits and floppy ties, Claiborne created clothes that were appropriate, stylish, but also feminine. They were fashionable but not trendy. And most importantly, they were priced so that both the executive and her secretary could afford them.

It’s thanks to her that we don’t all have to wear blouses with foufy bows at the collar (the early “feminine” take on reinterpreting business clothing — specifically neckties — for women).

You can read her obituary here.

World Day Against Child Labor

June 12, 2007

Today is World Day Against Child Labor. Care estimates approximately 218 million children worldwide are involved in child labor. This year’s focus is on child labor in agriculture, which is the sector in which the majority of child workers are to be found; almost 70%.

Particularly egregious is the cocoa industry. In the Ivory Coast, labor rights advocates estimate that around 10 000 children are enslaved to work in cocoa plantations. The major cocoa corporations drafted a voluntary Cocoa Industry Protocol aiming to eliminate child labor in the industry by 2005 — the deadline has passed, and still children are working in cocoa fields.

In the garment industry, there’s recently been a focus on child labor in China in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  PlayFair 2008 released a report entitled “No medal for the Olympics on labor rights” — as of writing, I can’t find the report on the net, but it’s been widely reported on by various news outlets. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that four companies with contracts to produce licensed memorabilia for the games — including hats, bags, and stationery — have been found to be violating minimum wage laws and employing children. The contracts have since been cancelled.

How globalization causes camel toe

June 6, 2007

From Fashion Incubator, who runs a fantastic blog about commercial clothing manufacture. Her stuff is often a little too advanced for a home sewist like me, but it’s a great read for insights into the industry.

Part 1

Part 2

The short version, for those of you who might not be quite as fascinated by the industrial standards for pattern making: This fashion misfortune is entirely due to bad cut — you can get more pants out of a bolt of fabric if you make the crotch curve shallower. And if you are testing your factory prototypes on models of a different size and shape to the people in the market that you are selling to, you will never notice the, erm, misfortune.

More on the Marianas garment industry

June 3, 2007

Via Radio New Zealand:

Saipan’s Chamber of Commerce in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas says the Department of Labour has been told to stop hiring garment workers.

This comes after the US President George Bush approved an increase of the minimum wage by 50 cents in two months and 50 cents every year following until local wages have reached the federal wage rate of US$7.25 an hour.

Something is not quite right here. The Department of Labour has been told by who, exactly? And why does the DOL in the Marianas hire garment workers? Surely the garment workers are hired by private companies?

When minimum wages rise, there are always howls from business protesting that they won’t be able to stay open; but in this case, it seems like government is stepping in before the business even have a chance to fail — or, as seems more likely, stepping in before the businesses have a chance to absorb the wage hike and go on as usual.

Feels to me like someone is playing chicken.

In other news from Saipan’s garment factories, early last month a number of women who protested against their employer were subject to pepper spray and electric shocks by police.

Standing up for women at Liz Claiborne

May 7, 2007

Sunday’s Washington Post carried a story about workplace outreach strategies for victims of domestic violence: Office Awareness Can Head Off Abuse At Home. It highlights corporations which are acting to protect and assist women and men in domestic violence situations. Liz Claiborne is apparently one of the most progressive companies in the country in this regard; it’s called the “gold standard” by Kay Wells, executive director of the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence.

Liz Claiborne instituted its program after a survey found that 23% (!!) of its employees had been victims of domestic violence. They approach the program from a bottom line perspective, pointing out that domestic violence gives rise to absenteeism and and increased health-care costs for the company. (Although I did hesitate at the spokesperson who compared DV to “alcoholism and drug abuse”.)

The company sponsors a domestic violence awarness website, Love Is Not Abuse.

Key points of the Liz Claiborne policy (pdf) include:

  • Allowing short term leave for employees who want to leave violent households.
  • Assigning parking spaces in well-lit areas (this is so simple and easy for any business to do)
  • Making sure that communication with corporate security is kept confidential.
  • Removing employee’s names from telephone directories.
  • Instituting non-discrimination policies to cover victims of domestic violence.
  • Retaining the right to pursue disciplinary action or dismissal if employees are found to be engaging in acts or threats of domestic violence while at work or using company resources.

As well as protecting the bottom line, DV prevention policies also act to reduce the risk of workplace violence. Perpetrators of domestic violence don’t leave their violent behavior at the door in the morning. State Farm, another company mentioned in the piece, cites the stat that 28% of reported threats of violence in the workplace had a basis in domestic violence.

In March 2003, an employee’s husband was sent away from a Liz Claiborne distribution center because he didn’t have security clearance. He returned with a gun. The company’s security team got local police involved and locked down the facility, and after a standoff the husband was caught. The company’s security practices may have saved lives that day, said Mark Couch, a Claiborne human resources director.

So kudos, Liz Claiborne. And I like your shoes.

Next, we will make shoes from cheese mold

March 17, 2007

Researchers at UWA have made a dress from the skin that forms on top of red wine when it goes bad.

Apparently “Their creation smells like wine and feels like sludge when its wet.”


The broader aim is to create fabrics using microbes — to grow whole cloth, more or less — which is kind of cool, but I hope this is just a first step. They are also currently working on making a fabric from the bacteria found in beer.

I have to wonder, where are they getting their booze from? I hope they aren’t wasting good wine on this. I’m sure if they wander around the UWA campus on a Monday morning, they can find a few half-empty flagons of goon lying about.

Hat tip to Fashion Incubator.

p.s. Notice the comment on the Telegraph page? The Grapes of Cloth? Rhymes with wrath? Ha. You know who you are. (Although, shouldn’t it be the cloth of grapes?)


March 14, 2007

I was wandering through a downtown department store the other day looking for a pair of socks. I prefer socks in natural fibers, so I usually check the fiber content — and I was intrigued when I came across a pair made from 100% bamboo.

Bamboo is beginning to get a foothold in the construction industry. It was widely featured as a material in the Green House exhibit at the National Building Museum here in Washington DC, where it had a wide variety of applications, from floor planking to carpeting to furniture. It’s been praised by advocates of green technologies as more sustainable than wood because of its short growth cycle.

I don’t doubt that some of the claims made by folks using bamboo in their manufacturing are quite true. It does have a faster growth cycle than timber. It may very possibly “generate more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees”, as is claimed at SFGate. That’s an odd claim, though. Do we need more oxygen? We certainly need less CO2, but if that’s what it does, why not say so? (And what’s an “equivalent” stand of trees, anyway?)

Maybe it’s just incompetence on my part, but among all of these claims, I can’t find a whole lot of links to actual studies which provide evidence for the claims. Now a good number of the claims come from advertisers (including a decent number of the claims made by the Green House exhibit, which very prominently lists the commercial suppliers for the products used to produce the house). Some of the claims from advertisers verge on the absurd.

For instance, from Bambu, which makes bamboo kitchenware:

“Bamboo shoots provide a nutritional source of food which can be made into bread, cakes scones and cookies.”

Well. Hell. If there’s gonna be cakes, scones and cookies!! Must be good. They don’t say how much of the bamboo grown for their product line makes it into the secondary baked goods market, but I’m sure most of it does.

There are a ton of companies now offering bamboo clothing. One of the claims specific to clothing is the “antibacterial” properties of bamboo:

Its test results shows over 70% death rate after bacteria was incubated on bamboo fibre fabric. In addition, tests by the Japanese Textile Inspection Association found that, even after fifty times of washing, bamboo fabric still possessed these functions.

Science! At last! I figured that maybe I could find this Japanese Textile Inspection Association online. Oddly, they don’t get many hits on google — a scant 25, many of which appear to be repeating claims from the Bambrotex manufacturing plant in China.

Now, I’ll buy that there could possibly be translation problems going on here — if the “Japanese Textile Inspection Association” is a translation from Japanese to Chinese to English, it’s entirely possible that the science is available online, and I just can’t find it, because that’s not the name of the research institute. And it’s also entirely possible that it’s not available in English. (This doesn’t count.)

Something of a bigger problem for me is that a lot of the bamboo milled and woven into fabric appears to be coming out of China. I’m very skeptical about environmental claims coming from advertisers anywhere, but China isn’t exactly an international star of environmental regulation.

I also have to wonder — if I were to buy those renewable, sustainable, bamboo socks, how much money went to the worker who made the fiber? What sort of factory does she work in? What sort of labor protections does she have?

International Women’s Day

March 8, 2007

March 8th is International Women’s Day. The factory floors of the global garment industry are mostly staffed by women, and these women have been fighting for fair labor conditions for decades.

One of the little known aspects of the recently-passed Fair Minimum Wage Act is its provision for fair labor standards in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or CNMI. The CNMI has for years been what Tom Delay has called “a perfect petri dish of capitalism”, an unregulated and mostly unnoticed island incubator for the garment industry, under the imprimatur of the United States. Garments made in the CNMI can bear the label “Made in the USA”, but the workers in CNMI garment factories are not protected by US minimum wage or labor protections.

These workers in these garment factories are often young women imported from southeast Asia, and forced into what amounts to indentured servitude. Women recruited to these factories must repay recruiter’s fees before they have access to their wages. They are also often required to repay living costs to their employers for housing and food. In order to meet these expenses, they are forced to work to the point of exhaustion.

“One or two days a week we’d work through an entire night, and I was exhausted,” says Chen Xiaoyan, 26, a nervous young woman with a thin ponytail who used to work for RIFU. “Sometimes we had no Sundays off either, but if you didn’t want to work they’d allow you no overtime at all as a punishment.”

Previous attempts to regulate labor conditions in the CNMI have been stymied by everyone’s favorite disgraced lobbyist, Jack Abramoff. Abramoff was hired by the CNMI government in 1995 to protect their interests in the garment industry, and used his pull with Republicans in the Congress to block dozens of bills which would have ensured basic labor protections for CNMI workers.

Some of the women who travel to the CNMI in the hope of finding work find themselves in far more sinister conditions. On February 8, 2007, Kayleen Entena testified to the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

My name is Kayleen D. Entena. I am 23 years old; I am from Laguna Province in the Philippines. Laguna Province is about two hours by bus from Metro Manila. I am the eldest child in my family. I have four brothers, my father passed away when I was in elementary school. My mother works sometimes as a housekeeper. When I was recruited in the Philippines for work in Saipan in September, 2005, I was excited about the opportunity towork abroad. I was promised to be paid $400.00 a month to work as a waitress, they told me I would be working in a restaurant.

Entena goes on to testify that when she arrived in Saipan, she found that she had instead been recruited into a brothel. You can read her entire chilling testimony here (pdf).

I am hoping that this kind of illegal system will stop, the way it happened to me, the way I was treated. I do not want this to happen to anyone. I know that there are other women out in the community like me. They are just afraid to speak out because they don’t know where to go or just because they have to support their family back home. Please help change the way the government functions here on the CNMI. If there’s no change or people are not held responsible for their actions then it will continue to happen to innocent victims. I hope you will hear my wish. I am forever grateful.

The Fair Minimum Wage Act promises protections for women like Chen and Entena. The only thing which is currently preventing this bill from becoming law is the signature of President Bush.