CALVIN KLEIN, LEVI’S, A&F DEFENDANTS IN SAIPAN SUIT
Byline: Eric Wilson
NEW YORK — Six additional companies, including Calvin Klein, Levi Strauss & Co. and Abercrombie & Fitch, were named as defendants on Friday in a class action lawsuit filed last year on behalf of factory workers in Saipan.
Brooks Bros., The Talbots Inc. and Woolrich Inc. were also named as defendants in the suit, one of three cases filed in January 1999 seeking class-action status and $1 billion in damages from a broad range of retailers and megabrand manufacturers, from Tommy Hilfiger to Nordstrom.
The latest round of defendants was cited in the most controversial of the suits, one in which two high-profile tort law firms, Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, and Altshuler, Berzon, by using federal RICO organized crime statutes, are seeking to prove the companies knowingly violated workers’ rights. The case was moved in August from Los Angeles to Honolulu and a trial date has been set for Feb. 27, 2001, according to Michael Rubin, a partner at Altshuler, Berzon.
Several companies, including Nordstrom, Donna Karan, Polo Ralph Lauren and Phillips-Van Heusen, forged a settlement with the law firms in October agreeing to pay roughly $400,000 apiece to finance an independent monitoring program in Saipan, which is part of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory located near Guam. Officials at those companies said the settlements did not represent any admission of wrongdoing, but reflected their desire to avoid significant legal fees associated with putting on a defense.
None of the six companies named on Friday said they had seen the complaint yet. Representatives for Levi’s and Talbots said they had enforced their own labor compliance programs in relation to production in Saipan.
Levi’s began phasing out its production in Saipan in 1998 and stopped producing there in January, noting it was not a critical sourcing base for the firm.
“We firmly believe our contractors that were producing our product in Saipan were in full compliance with our code of conduct and all applicable laws,” she said. “Additionally, we monitored payroll records and worked with the contractors to ensure our code of conduct and workplace standards were being met.”
A Talbots spokeswoman said the company was unaware of any of the businesses with which it did business having been cited for labor law violations.
“We have not yet been served with a complaint in this matter and therefore have no comment at this time,” said a Calvin Klein spokesman.
The six companies will also likely be named as defendants in a suit filed by the tort firms in San Francisco that charges them with promoting unfair business practices, Rubin said. The remaining defendants in that case had filed several motions to dismiss the suit, but those requests have been denied.
There remaining 12 defendants in the Honolulu and San Francisco suits include Gap Inc., J.C. Penney, Jones Apparel Group, Lane Bryant, The Limited, May Co., Sears, Hilfiger and Warnaco.
A third suit filed in Saipan names only local contractors as defendants, charging them with systematic labor abuses through which more than 13,000 workers were forced to work under sweatshop conditions. This included a largely immigrant workforce of young Chinese women who plaintiffs allege were enticed to Saipan with offers of high-paying jobs in exchange for a recruitment fee, but then were held there under a system of indentured servitude.