Friday, 06 February 2009 00:00 By Raquel Bagnol - Variety News Staff
Visiting Saipan nowadays is like coming back to what was once a thriving civilization that had been destroyed and abandoned
This was according to Adam Yamaguchi, a television correspondent and producer at Current TV, a cable network founded by former Vice President Al Gore.
He visited the island recently to document the “rise and sudden collapse of a tiny piece of America.”
The trailer for his documentary “The Battle of Saipan” is available online: http://current.com/items/89699623/battle_of_saipan_trailer.htm
“Saipan is a nice place that I would pay a lot of my own money to visit, but Saipan is facing one of the fastest economic collapses in history,” Yamaguchi said in the trailer.
He added, “The present battle of Saipan is an economic one, and throughout the islands you can see the victims.”
He said many of the foreign workers who came to work for garment factories are now loitering the island, jobless and have no means to go home.
He said some factory workers have resorted to prostitution just to survive.
The Current Web site includes an excerpt from “The Battle of Saipan” showing Yamaguchi talking with guest workers now in the sex trade. (http://current.com/items/89782146/adam_picks_up_a_prostitute.htm)
“Saipan used to have the best of both worlds — cheap labor to allow it to compete with the prices of garments in U.S. mainland manufacturers, and no quota on what it could ship to the mainland,” Yamaguchi said.
He added that a few years ago, 17,000 Chinese workers were making clothing in over three dozen garment factories, earning $3 an hour “which is just 60 percent of the minimum wage rate in the U.S. mainland,” Yamaguchi said.
All this ended when World Trade Organization rules took effect in 2005 following a 10-year transition period.
Now, garment factories in Third World countries, where labor is cheaper, can also export their apparel to the U.S. without quota restrictions.
“Once the ultimate globalization success story, the island of Saipan now faces one of the fastest economic collapses in history,” the Current Web site stated. “After suffering a harsh history of military struggles as well as a temporary economic boom after becoming a U.S. commonwealth, the island now stands devastated. Scores of factories remain empty, rotting shopping centers litter the country, and former factory workers turn to the sex industry for survival.”