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Skeletons in our Closet

As published in the Horizon, Whatcom Community College's newspaper on April 26, 2001

Most students on campus wear clothes imported from other countries. Few are aware if their clothes are made in sweatshops.

Some students are conscientious enough to buy "made in USA" products under the assumption that the government makes sure that the workers are treated fairly.

This is not always the case. Some companies operate on the fringe of American soil and are not subject to the full extent of American law.

American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the United States, 2300 miles southwest of Hawaii, is one place that such companies operate.

At the Daewoosa plant, problems developed when the company withheld pay and forced workers to work long hours under sweatshop conditions without overtime pay.

They lived in cramped rat-infested quarters that were located behind razor wire fences. If they violated the curfew they were physically abused. Their food, provided by Daewoosa, was often inedible.

When some workers protested, the company retaliated by withholding food, assaulting them and attempting to imprison them.

When the workers refused to work, Daewoosa ordered their security guards to force them back to work. A violent confrontation resulted and several workers were injured. One wonam lost an eye.

The U.S. Department of Labor issued a report that described some of the workers as "walking skeletons" who suffered from conditions of malnutrition and overwork.

The Department of Labor ordered corrective measures and fines but had no power to enforce the orders, because Samoa in under the jurisdiction of the High Court of American Samoa, not the federal courts.

The Department of Labor has labeled all products manufactured by Daewoosa as "hot goods" for violations of minimum wage and overtime requirements.

This action prevents the company from selling its products to any person or firm in the United States.

The Samoan News and the Vietnam Labor Watch webpage reported the incident. A complete report, including pictures, is available at the student center desk.

students at Whatcom who wish to be involved in improving the working conditions in sweatshops can contact WWU's Associated Students organization "Students Against Sweatshops." Cassandra Howe is the contact person and may be reached by e-mail at

Students can contact me by e-mail at or at 647-1986. Letters will be forwarded to Representative George Miller, California, who is in charge of investigating sweatshops.
Sheila L Richardson
Bellingham Washington