Major retailers pay out in sweatshop lawsuit

Dozens of American clothing producers, including The Gap and Target, have settled a class action lawsuit in connection with factory sweatshop conditions.

The settlement means clothing labelled "Made in the USA" will be made by workers who are protected by American law. The workers involved in this lawsuit sew clothes in the Pacific islands of Saipan and the Northern Marianas both are part of the U.S. commonwealth.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 30,000 immigrant workers in Asia. It accused the companies of forcing employees to work long hours for low pay and in poor conditions. The workers make more than $1 billion worth of clothing every year.

Retailers have paid out $19 million to settle two lawsuits filed by the workers. Other retailers include: J.C. Penney, Abertcrombie & Fitch, Lane Bryant, Limited Brands and Talbots. Levi Strauss backed out of the settlement and has stopped buying garments from Saipan.

The companies have agreed to adopt a code of conduct and pay for independent monitoring of factories on Saipan.

The companies say the settlement does not mean they have admitted any wrongdoing in their treatment of workers.

"We're pleased to have helped develop an enhanced monitoring program that includes remediation efforts," said Lauri Shanahan of The Gap. Shanahan says the settlement "complements" The Gap's efforts to improve factory conditions.

According to Oxfam, many of the world's 23.6 million garment workers in 160 countries are denied their basic human rights. They have poor working conditions, substandard wages and most are women.

In 2001, Oxfam crowned the top three sweatshop retailers in the world: Disney, Wal-Mart and Nike.

In Canada, the Maquila Solidatarity Network and the Ethical Trading Action Group have been lobbying for manufacturers to disclose the names and addresses of the subcontractors who manufacture their goods. Roots Canada, Mountain Equipment Co-op and the Eastern Association of College Stores have declared their support.

The proposal would change federal labelling regulations by providing consumers with information through the Industry Canada database on where clothes sold in Canada are made.

Retailers have rejected the plan saying it would be a "nightmare" to manage.