Tag Archives: sweatshop

Why we fought for Charlie Brown…

(One minor correction: The Marianas were one of MANY reasons why we supported Charlie Brown. Brown is a good decent man who ran against…well..a different kind of guy. – promoted by SFBrianCL)

Hey everyone! Neil here from Ripples of Hope. I just wanted to let everyone know that good news is coming in the next few days from Washington!

Congressman George Miller, a long-time champion of the wage and labor atrocities in the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands (CNMI), is pushing legislation witin the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress convening that will help curb the abuses in the Marianas. Here’s a link.

More over the flip.

So, in order for this legislation to pass, we ALL need to get pro-active. We need to email our House Representatives and strongly urge them to help this legislation pass. You can find your local Congressional Representative by visiting www.house.gov and typing your zip code on the front page of the site. This is a great step for the women and children being abused in Saipan, and we owe it to them to do what we can to affect change.

Charlie Brown, the candidate for Congress against John Doolittle in CA-04, is still fighting for justice for these people. They simply want good jobs and secure futures for their families, but its being denied. The American Dream is nothing more than an American Nightmare to them. Charlie, Nick, myself, and others like dengre over on kos are fighting to help these people: but everyone should be joining us in these efforts.

Also, please check out our website at www.ripplesofhope.org and see how you can help these immigrants being denied the American Dream, and suggest to your representative that they do the same.

Neil & Nick
Ripples of Hope

Bring Hope to the Marianas this Holiday Season

Merry Christmas, Dailykos! For most of us, there’s only a day and a half of shopping left to do before we visit our friends and family and enjoy this special time of the year. Many of us celebrate Christmas as not only a time of holy reverence, but a time of togetherness and goodwill. Aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, friends and even neighbors gather to give something from their hearts to the ones they love.

Here in the United States, we live lives of relative comfort. Even those of us who have substantially less than most are far better off and much more comfortable than people in African countries, Southeast Asia, and even most of Europe. That’s part of the American Dream: to live lives of comfort and ease and secure inviting accommodations for our loved ones. At least that’s what the perception is. The truth of the matter is that there are some people on American soil that are denied the American Dream. Those people live in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and are living what is known as an American Nightmare.

In the tiny islands of Saipan, Tinia and Rota, the promise of the American Dream is dangled in front of the faces of immigrant workers. Most of these immigrants come from China, while others come from such impoverished nations as Bangladesh, Thailand, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. They come to the Mariana Islands in hopes of better lives. They know that the CNMI is a territory of the United States of America. They know that Americans live, by comparison, lives of luxury and comfort. They see the American Dream and are willing to risk all to get a piece of what we take for granted.

They are hard-working lower-class citizens in their home countries, and are approached by recruiters to come work in the “American Islands.” They sign the normal labor contracts a temporary worker needs to sign to be legal in the Marianas, and then the recruiters must sign a contract with their province labor ministries. In Communist China, these “Shadow Contracts” are legally enforceable, and as stated in a 1994 letter to CNMI Governor Pedro Tenorio from Tomas Camacho, the Catholic Bishop overseeing the islands:

“This contract can result in the worker being subjected to civil and criminal penalties for asserting the rights or fulfilling an obligation under the laws of the CNMI and the United States. This contract acts to deprive Chinese citizens of rights they might enjoy while resident in the CNMI. The effect of this contract is to dramatically inhibit a worker from filing a labor complaint because of fear of sanction upon return to China.”

In order to make it to the “American Islands,” migrant workers have to pay exorbitant recruitment fees, sometimes in upwards of $5,000. After paying a lifetime of savings to these recruiters, they arrive on the beautiful Marianas and find that many of the jobs they were promised never truly existed. Good construction jobs don’t exist for these immigrants. Higher paying government jobs are reserved for native islanders and white Americans. The only jobs these people can get are as household servants, “dancers” in sex clubs, or jobs in the infamous sweatshops exposed in Brian Ross’s 1998 20/20 expose. The pay is not what was agreed upon. The conditions are worse than any standard of living we would accept for ourselves here in the States. When the contracts are up and the immigrants are to go back to their home countries, there are certain fees and taxes that are burdened on these impoverished workers. With practically no money to pay the return fees, the immigrants have to take out loans to cover the taxes. If the worker cannot repay the loan, it seems that he may end up going to debtor’s prison. Being fired can mean going to jail. The situation seems hopeless.

In a 1994 press release, Bishop Camacho said the following:

“It is the teaching of the church that every human being has basic rights not because of the benevolence of the state or even because they are provided by the law. Rather, these rights flow from the essential dignity of every human being as the image and likeness of God. Several years ago, Pope John Paul II wrote in is encyclical letter, Centesimus Annus, that human rights involve the workplace as well. These rights include that of private property, the right to establish professional organizations and labor unions, as well as the right to a just wage. According to the Pope, these principles must find expression in the laws of the state which guarantee human rights in the fair enforcement of those laws and in the actions of each member of the community who looks “upon his neighbor as another self, bearing in mind above all his life and the means necessary for living it in a dignified way lest he follow the example of the rich man who ignored Lazarus, the poor man (Luke 16:19-31)…The CNMI seems to be in a situation where it may be complicit in depriving people of their rights, if it does not do everything of which it is capable to ensure that the rights of all people within its borders are fully respected. Whenever the rights of anyone living in the CNMI are in jeopardy, the rights of everyone are in jeopardy.”

The CNMI has been a territory of the United States for decades. They follow US law in almost every way, with the exceptions of labor and immigration. These seem to be the biggest problems the islands now face. Congress has had ample opportunity to fix these problems, at the urging of President Clinton during the 1990’s, Senators Frank Murkowski (R- Alaska), Daniel Akaka (D- Hawaii) and Congressman George Miller (D- California). Over 29 pieces of reform legislation have been held up or killed in committee.

As we prepare to reflect on the year and celebrate Hope with our families and friends, we need to remember that there are some people living on American soil that don’t have the luxury of celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or any other religious holiday. They cannot celebrate family in debtor’s prison. They cannot give in a sweatshop. They cannot have the togetherness we celebrate in a sex club. There is little hope of any form for these people.

What are our excuses for allowing these abuses to continue? The effective range of our excuses is zero meters. It is up to us all to cause change. Robert F. Kennedy said “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.  Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope; and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

We are two twenty-somethings trying to cause ripples in the world. We have watched our parents’ and grandparents’ generations take our world down a course that we don’t necessarily agree with. The first project we hope to work on is bringing awareness of the atrocities going on in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to public light. Ripples of Hope, started by Neil Pople and Nick Shepard, hopes to live up to Bobby Kennedy’s idea that we can affect changes that cause a chain reaction leading to bigger and better things.

If you are interested in learning more about the Marianas or our organization, please visit our website at www.ripplesofhope.org. We are in the process of getting our group official 501(c)3 status, which is the official status to make donations tax deductible. To put it simply, we cannot accept donations just yet. But what we ARE asking is that you make a pledge to Ripples of Hope, a financial commitment to helping the workers on the Mariana Islands. Saipan, Tinia and Rota are three extremely beautiful islands scarred by an ugly secret. We cannot wait for the next person to fix the problem. We need to roll up our sleeves and do something today.

2007 is going to be a year of community for us, and we wish you the best this Holiday Season.

The Truth of the Marianas

(I had the pleasure of helping out Nick and Neil on the Brown campaign. They were greatly affected by what they learned about the Marianas and hopefully can draw greater attention to the atrocities. – promoted by juls)

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) has been a sore issue with certain politicians in Washington. Political leaders such as Tom DeLay, John Doolittle, Richard Pombo, Conrad Burns, Ralph Reed and even President George W. Bush have been linked to the scandals involving Jack Abramoff and the horrific human rights abuses on these tiny Pacific Islands under US supervision. As concerned citizens who first learned about the Marianas while working as staffers on the Charlie brown for Congress campaign, Nick Shepard and myself (Neil Pople) decided to create a non-profit group that would address the issues our elected officials and political leaders seem unwilling and unable to tackle…

More below the fold…

Calling ourselves “Ripples of Hope” after an amazing 1966 Robert F. Kennedy speech in Cape Town, South Africa (http://www.americanr….), we hope to affect change in the world, one issue at a time, causing ripples of hope to the disenfranchised people who live on American soil. Our first in what we hope to be many projects spanning the globe, we decided to tackle the egregious human rights and labor abuses going on in the Mariana Islands. These three tiny islands just miles from Guam, are composed of Saipan, Tinia and Rota. While the islands themselves rival Fiji and Maui in their natural beauty, there is a dark and ugly side that needs to be discussed.

As a Commonwealth of the United States of America, the islands are under the sovereignty of this country. US Federal laws apply to the CNMI, with the following exceptions:

• The CNMI is not within the customs territory of the US
• Federal minimum wage provisions do not apply
• Federal immigration laws do not apply
• The CNMI can establish its own tax laws
• The Jones Act, requiring goods shipped between US ports to be carried on US- registered ships, does not apply to the CNMI [1]
The 1995 CNMI Census data showed that 53% of the population are not American citizens. Non-residents are precluded by law from certain occupations and are largely working in the tourist, garment, construction and domestic service industries [2]. The CNMI is advertised as a place for foreign workers to come for “good American jobs.” They came to pursue the American dream, but what they unwittingly walked into was a labor nightmare, complete with shadow contracts that set extremely strict guidelines that limit the personal freedoms of the workers. The immigration laws on the Marianas do not comply with US law. In addition, these laws allow uncontrolled immigration to American soil (a serious security threat) and at a direct economic benefit to Communist China, which owns many of the garment factories, casinos and sex shops on CNMI.

The garment industry itself has been dominated by Chinese manufacturers employed by such major designers as Polo-Ralph Lauren, GAP, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. These companies enjoy the fact that, as a US Territory, the Mariana sweatshops get to sew “Made in the USA” on the labels of Chinese-manufactured clothing brought in duty-free to the islands. 

Garment workers on the Marianas often aren’t paid at all, work 16-20 hour days, are forced to pay huge “recruitment fees” to foreign recruiters, live in squalid housing, are malnourished, forced by employment contracts to have abortions if they become pregnant, and fired if they attend church. Many do not even have promised jobs waiting for them when they get to the islands, and are forced by their recruiters to be a part of the islands’ growing sex trade, or face being sent back to their home country… penniless and in violation of legal contracts that could force them to see jail time.

A 1999 Department of the Interior report described that the federal government was well aware of the human rights abuses, immigration policies and minimum wage violations:

“Even though the (Federal-CNMI Initiative on Labor, Immigration and Law Enforcement) Initiative has provided increased resources to address the problems, the Administration finds that the government of the CNMI is unwilling to alter its basic immigration, minimum wage, and garment manufacturing policies, and that there are  fundamental weaknesses in CNMI law enforcement [3].”

Despite this report, the House of Representatives failed to take action, and bills proposed by Congressman George Miller and Senators Frank Murkowski and Daniel Akaka were killed in committee over 29 times in the last decade. Progress and basic human rights have been denied the immigrant workers virtually enslaved on the Marianas. There is a time to sit back and there is a time to take action. Now is the time to take action.

Please take a look at the links to the following websites. They will prove useful in your basic understanding of the desperate situation in Saipan. We all need to get educated on this issue if we expect to make ripples…


These are but a very small sampling of the diverse groups and individuals working on stopping the abuses on the Marianas. With your help writing your Congress and pledging support for Ripples of Hope, we can “build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Thank you for your time and efforts,

Neil Pople and Nick Shepard
Founders, Ripples of Hope

PS- If you are interested in pledging support for our cause, please feel free to email us at [email protected].

[1] U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs: A Report on the State of the Islands, 1999 page 25
[2] U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs: A Report on the State of the Islands, 1999 page 26
[3] U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs: A Report on the State of the Islands, 1999 page 6