Byline: Kristi Ellis

LOS ANGELES — Workers at the El Monte, Calif., sweatshop operation uncovered two years ago have reached out-of-court settlements totaling more than $2 million with firms allegedly supplied by the sweatshop, one of the groups representing the workers announced Thursday.
The workers include more than 70 Thai immigrants who were found virtually imprisoned in a sewing plant, as well as 80 Latinos who worked at affiliated locations.
According to the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, BUM International, LF Sportswear, Mervyn’s and Montgomery Ward & Co. agreed to pay a total of $2 million to the workers, while Hub Distributing/Miller’s Outpost settled for an undisclosed amount. All the settlements were without admission of liability, the Center said.
The settlements are the results of suits filed in September and October 1995, charging manufacturers and retailers who allegedly did business with the El Monte operation with joint liability under federal and state laws, negligence and unfair business practices.
One defendant, Tomato Inc., has not reached a settlement, and Begin Inc., yet another defendant, has closed, according to Julie Su, an attorney with the Center. Another defendant, New Boys, did not respond to the suit, Su said, and the plaintiffs are seeking a default judgment against it.
A spokesman for Miller’s Outpost confirmed agreeing to a settlement, but representatives of the other defendants could not be reached for comment.
State and labor officials raided the compound in El Monte in August 1995 and uncovered one of the most notorious cases of virtual slavery in the history of the Los Angeles apparel industry. Seven owners of the factory were convicted of violating federal criminal human rights laws in February 1996.
Discussing the settlements, Su asserted, “Manufacturers and retailers can’t continue to rely on the claim that they didn’t know so as not to take responsibility.” Willful ignorance is not a defense for manufacturers and retailers that use sweatshops.”