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The federal court on the Pacific island of Saipan has approved a $20 million settlement that lawyers for garment workers say could lead to better working conditions at factories around the world that make clothes for sale in America. “The day has arrived when workers’ rights will be truly protected,” said Michael Rubin, a lead attorney for the laborers in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Alex R. Munson on Saipan, about 3,800 miles southwest of Honolulu, formally approved the settlement first reached in a federal racketeering lawsuit late last year. The settlement will give compensation and backpay to 30,000 workers and set up an independent monitoring system to regulate wages, overtime pay, working conditions and living conditions at factory barracks. All but one of the 55 retailers and manufacturers involved in the Saipan garment industry signed the settlement. Lone holdout Levi Strauss & Co. says it stopped buying garments from Saipan factories in 2000. The retailers in the agreement include Target Corp., Gap Inc., J.C. Penney Co., Abercrombie & Fitch and 22 others. The settlement does not include an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants. Calls to some of the manufacturers were not returned late Thursday, but a Gap spokeswoman said earlier that the company was pleased to help develop the monitoring program, which has its full support. An executive of Target, James Hale, has said the retailer has its own monitoring program and does not admit to any of the “egregious violations that were alleged” in the lawsuit. The settlement assures consumers who buy clothing labeled “Made in the U.S.A.” that workers who sew the clothes on Saipan are protected by American law, Rubin said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. The suit was filed as a class action on behalf of garment workers from Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, who alleged they worked 12-hour days in unsafe conditions. Most of the workers are Chinese women. Rubin said the monitoring system and a code of conduct agreed upon by the factories goes into effect in 60 days. He said most of the attorney fees in the case were waived by the plaintiffs’ law firms. “We care deeply about the human rights involved and the legal principles involved,” Rubin said, adding that it should provide a model for garment industry monitoring worldwide, and for other industries as well. Up to $8 million of the settlement will go to workers in direct compensation, he said. Other funds will be used for the monitoring program and to help workers who incurred large debts to come to Saipan or to ease the cost of returning home if they lose their jobs. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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