The more you dig, the worse things look. But one issue that's finally coming to light are the incredible abuses of human rights in the Northern Mariana Islands. Third world workers are tricked into bondage with promises of high paying labor, only to find themselves trapped in sweatshops or worse.
ABC News, The Blotter:
A 23-year-old woman sold into sexual slavery in the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the United States, told her story of kidnapping, rape and a lucky escape to members of Congress today, as part of an effort to expose lax laws and officials accused by reformers of tolerating rampant human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
"I was scared. I started crying. I told him, 'I don't like. I don't like.' He then started to rape me," Kayleen Entena testified today in a hearing on immigration, labor, law enforcement and economic conditions in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
Entena was "recruited" in the Philippines to work as a waitress in Saipan, lured by the prospect of earning money to bring her family out of poverty.
Sweatshops in the Marianas, AKA Saipan, are nightmares. And they were protected by Tom DeLay, who told sweatshop slavers, "You are a shining light for what is happening to the Republican Party, and you represent everything that is good about what we are trying to do in America and leading the world in the free-market system."
Because the Marianas are a US commonwealth, sweatshops get away with slapping a 'Made in the USA' label on goods made by slaves. Companies that have taken advantage of this system of bondage include Tommy Hilfiger USA, Gap, Calvin Klein, and Liz Claiborne.
And Tom knew all about it. In a 1998 report for ABC, Brian Ross reported (via Democracy Now!):
Saipan has cultivated some powerful friends back in Washington, spending millions of dollars on lobbyists and free trips in the middle of the winter for members of Congress and their staff. Congressman Tom DeLay of Houston, the third-ranking Republican in the House, went as a guest of the Saipan government over the Christmas holiday, a trip that included a tour of several factories and barracks, with one that even Congressman DeLay had to concede was nothing to write home about.
Brian Ross doesn't do the camps justice here. For that, we have to turn to Mark Shields, who tells us Saipan workers were "being paid barely half the U.S. minimum hourly wage and were forced to live behind barbed wire in squalid shacks minus plumbing, work 12 hours a day, often seven days a week, without any of the legal protections U.S. workers are guaranteed..."
Beyond the sexual slavery, de facto kidnapping, forced prostitution, and labor camps, there are mandatory abortions and renunciation of religion -- even the right to love is taken from them.
BRIAN ROSS: In fact, American authorities have discovered many Chinese workers are forced to sign secret agreements, known as shadow contracts, before they leave China, severely and, in some ways, illegally restricting their activities while on American soil. For example, in this agreement translated into English by American authorities, workers are forbidden to participate in any religious or political activity or to ask for a salary increase or even to fall in love or get married, much as might be the case in mainland China.
ALLAN STAYMAN: To allow them to bring that on to U.S. soil is a very deep concern. We've now documented the facts that management coerces female workers who become pregnant into having abortions.
BRIAN ROSS: Several of the cases, the government says it has documented, were at this factory, the one with a contract to make Ralph Lauren Polo t-shirts. This Chinese woman, Tu Xiao Mei, made t-shirts and pants at the factory until she became pregnant.
TU XIAO MEI: When I told them I was pregnant, they told me to have an abortion.
Did I mention that Tom DeLay was a big talker when it came to outlawing abortion? Golly, I sure should've. And other anti-abortion blowhards were as hypocritical.
Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) helped Jack Abramoff secure a lucrative lobbying contract with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in 1999 and then assisted the now-disgraced lobbyist’s efforts to route federal money to the islands and defend its garment industry, newly obtained documents show.
The California Republican accepted $14,000 in contributions from Abramoff… The first contribution came just a few weeks before Doolittle endorsed the election of a key commonwealth politician crucial to Abramoff winning the contract. The last Abramoff contribution came as the Northern Marianas lobbying contract was expiring in December 2001.
This all fits in with my frequent criticism of 'values voters' -- they're chumps. Guys like DeLay and Doolittle make a lot of noise about abortion and gays and slapping the Ten Commandments on every blank space in America and these robots run out and vote for them. They never seem to notice that none of the stuff these phony christians promise ever actually gets passed. In fact, in the case of Saipan, they turn around and do the opposite. Values voters knock themselves out for these guys and they never get squat. Vote because you hate gays and you get top heavy tax cuts, vote because creationism isn't taught in schools and you get subsidies to oil companies, vote because you're against abortion and you get sex slavery and mandatory abortion in Saipan.
Here's hoping that investigations into the Abramoff investigations make the Northern Mariana Islands famous. Let's hope it shows that 'free trade' doesn't come with one hell of a lot of freedom. Let's hope that it shows the Republican party as the party of sleaze, corruption, and an everything-has-a-price mentality. Where money is involved, nothing else matters -- not human dignity, not conscience, and certainly not shame. If you can knock a few bucks off the price of a pair of jeans with shanghaied slaves, then huzzah for shanghaing and slavery.
Anyone who can go overseas, look at labor camps, sweat shops, and sex slavery, then come home, wave the Bible around, and scream that liberals have no morals deserves much, much worse than they're ever going to get. They're worse than pimps. The closest thing to justice we're ever going to see for these guys is to make them famous for it.
Technorati tags: politics; free trade; Tom DeLay; John Doolittle; Jack Abramoff; republican 'family values' include slavery, prostitution, and sweatshops -- are you sure these aren't Manson family values?