Do You Know That for Sure?

When I was chatting with my friends this weekend during our day trip, the conversation segued into a discussion of “made in USA” products. Although I do look for that label, I also understand that just because it says “made in USA” it doesn’t mean it’s made in this country by non-sweatshop workers. In fact, there is an island not far from China that is a commonwealth of the USA, and despite its gorgeous weather and scenery, it was a horror for the workers from China and the Philippines who had been lured there with promises of higher wages (higher than mainland China, though significantly less than USA minimum wage) and living on American soil. Despite the horrendous lie and deception (not only deceiving the workers but deceiving those of us who prefer to buy products made here by people who are paid at least minimum wage) many well-known companies with well-known brands utilized those poor workers, while boasting that their designer-label clothes were made in the USA.

My companions had never heard of such a place, and one asked me, “Do you know this for sure?”

I had to admit that I didn’t. I do know for sure that I read about this island, and I do know for sure that it had been documented and well-researched because when I first heard about this travesty (long before the internet and Google) that’s all the non-fiction I was reading — books with pedigrees.

Still, what do I know? What do any of us know? Besides what we have seen or felt or experienced ourselves, we don’t know anything for sure. In my case, I have to trust my sources, and back then, it was easy — in the back of the books I read were indexes of the research involved and sources for further reading — but now, with the internet and the easy spread of . . . non-truths, let’s say . . . it’s hard to know what is or is not true.

Curious, I set about looking for this island. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find anything on Google, but surprisingly, it was easy to find via Bing.

And yes, there is an island — Saipan — in the Northern Marianas. And yes, American garment manufacturers did utilize what amounts to slave labor. Luckily, after the scam and abuses were exposed in the early 1990s, and after millions of dollars in settlements from the apparel brands, things changed. But that’s not the end — a few years ago, the same scam was re-instigated, but this time the abused workers were construction workers.

Because of earlier scams and deceptions, even though I look for the “made in USA” label, I am leery of it. I tend to believe manufacturing shenanigans and sleight of hand still exist, but that is merely supposition gleaned from my knowledge of the corporate race to rake in as much profit as possible. But as with so much else I think I know, there’s no way to know for sure.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

2 Responses to “Do You Know That for Sure?”

  1. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    There are so many unknowns and uncertainties these days that I suspect there are a great many things we can’t know for sure.

    I recall the Saipan situation in the ’90s but there sure doesn’t seem to be much of an ongoing awareness of slave labour in today’s world. And what is considered ‘minimum wages’ in one country doesn’t seem to apply in others. I note that minimum in Saipan today is $7.25/hour, barely half of what it is here in Canada, although the ‘average’ there is apparently $24/hour which is pretty usual even here for entry level jobs.

    Like you, I prefer to select ‘made at home’ products where possible, although I also recognize the value in supporting manufacturing in developing countries. But I often wonder how much money makes it back to those we try to support. As you said, there are a lot of things we can’t know for sure.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I also look for made in Canada products. I figure since I’m forced into so many made in Mexico food products, I might as well willingly support our neighbors to the north.

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