Monday, January 12, 2009

Saipan Factory Girl

Walt sent me a press release about his latest book. It is available for $14.95. If you prefer to buy in bulk, you can also get 12 for the price of a dozen.
Last Garment Factory Soon to Close on Saipan, CNMI
Closure marks end of controversial era on US commonwealth

Saipan, CNMI—Almost twenty-six years after the first one opened in October, 1983, the last garment factory on the US territory of Saipan will close its doors January 31, 2009*, ending a controversy-plagued era on this island in the Western Pacific.

Saipan was home to a once-thriving garment industry which, at its height, hosted 36 factories which employed over 15,000 contract workers (mostly women from China, and many from Thailand, Philippines and other Pacific Islands), generated (taxes) of $40 million/year for the CNMI government, and $994 million in annual exports to the world.

“It’s a fascinating story, but much remains hidden about what things were really like here,” says Walt Goodridge, columnist for the Saipan Tribune, and editor of Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin: Diary of a Chinese Factory Girl (, the only known first-hand account of the (8-year) experience of a Chinese garment factory worker on Saipan. “Opinions vary, but most workers feel it was a benefit to earn the money they did. When the Uno Moda closes in a few days, it will mark a significant turning point for the island’s now primarily tourist-based economy,” Goodridge added.

Saipan’s unique relationship with the US allowed manufacturers to have “made in the USA” labels on garments sewn there, while benefiting from lower costs and a non-US regulated working wage paid to a mostly female, non-resident workforce. As the trade tarrifs lifted, conditions became less profitable, and factories began leaving Saipan for other profit-friendly regions.

In 2006, a Ms. Magazine article with allegations of labor abuse, corruption, and cover-up, along with class-action suits against factories, turned the media spotlight on Saipan, and government official complicity, and has tainted the island’s image with associations to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"Out with the old. In with the new!"

Many hope Pres. Bush’s recent designation of the world’s 3rd largest “no-take” marine monument which includes the nearby Mariana Trench will launch a new image and a new era of industries for the island as this one passes.


Visit for a 25-year industry timeline, income statistics, important milestones, dates of closures and a complimentary excerpt from Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin.

*Other media reports of dates of closure differ from what is actually happening here at "ground zero" on Saipan.

Uno Moda is the only factory still in operation, with workers reporting to work each day. Workers at Uno Moda have told us that the last day they will actually be sewing and packing is January 15th. Contact for up-to-date information and/or to request a video of last day.


Anonymous said...

It is amazing after 12 years of hard work a number of the garment girls have a little over $100,000 in their bank accounts. All banked while working for $3.05 per hour.
Lots of land for rice paddies farmed and modest homes were built in NE Thailand on this money. So what say you local people?

The Saipan Blogger said...

Perhaps the bulk of that money was made on street corners?