Letter: Sweatshop workers

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Congratulations for your excellent work in exposing the sweatshop conditions for female textile workers in Saipan ("Behind the designer labels, a world of exploitation and abuse", 24 September).

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the International Textile Workers' Federation have also been carrying out research into the problems for workers in Saipan. We have discovered that, in addition to forcing workers to sign contracts agreeing not to have children, they must also agree not to ask for wage increases, not to look for other work and not to join a union. Those who disobey and are deported must pay for their own return travel.

It is interesting to note the surprise and horror expressed by the Saipan Garment Manufacturers' Association when presented with The Independent's findings. For some time trade unions in the United States have asked companies to guarantee that their sub-contractors respect US labour laws, and to agree to stop using them if they do not comply. They are also pushing for a system of independent inspection to ensure decent working conditions.

The arrangements for using imported labour in Saipan illustrate how world trade rules promote the exploitation and abuse of workers who are often young women without protection. These issues must be addressed at the upcoming World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Seattle, which needs to start talks on the links between international trade and the violation of basic workers' rights, in order to address and prevent such exploitation in the future.