April 17, 2000 Geneva, NY – Carmencita “Chie” Abad will visit the Hobart and William Smith Colleges campus to discuss the working conditions she endured in the U.S. territory of Saipan while making clothing for the Gap. Abad will give a talk titled “Sweatshop Labor in Your Closet?” at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 24, in the Geneva Room on the HWS campus. In her struggle to unionize workers, Abad was forced to leave the island and is now working to educate Americans about inhumane factory conditions occurring on U.S. soil. Chie will help to organize students and community members who wish to become involved in the current campaign against the Gap.
Abad spent six years as a garment worker on the Pacific island of Saipan, in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Marianas. During that time, she endured wretched working conditions, frequently working 14-hour shifts in sweatshop conditions in order to meet arbitrary production quotas. Chie worked for the Sako Corporation, which makes clothes for the Gap, among other major U.S. retailers. Companies such as the Gap have used the Mariana Islands for their status as a U.S. territory, which thus allows them to have “Made in U.S.A.” labels.
After suffering the island's intolerable living and unsanitary working conditions and low wages, Chie attempted to organize Saipan's first garment worker union. When the factory management learned of her organizing efforts, managers began an intense campaign against the formation of a union. They threatened employees that they would shut down the plant and, in general, intimidated workers, frightening them from supporting the union. The eventual union-certifying election was lost by only five votes.
As a result of her attempts to organize workers at the Sako factory, Chie's year-long work contract was not renewed for the first time in five years. Rather than return to her home in the Philippines, she chose to come to the U.S. in order to expose the situation to Americans. Abad now serves as a spokeswoman for the workers of Saipan's garment industry as she works with several U.S. organizations on a lawsuit that hopes to improve living and working conditions on the island. Abad also works with Global Exchange to spread awareness of these types of places that many people fail to acknowledge.
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