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Daewoosa Samoa Owner Arrested

Honolulu Star-Bulletin  |  March 24, 2001  |  Share


Click here to view Daewoosa, American Samoa campaign page. 



Good News! Kilsoo Lee, owner of the Daewoosa sweatshop in American Samoa, has been arrested!

Kilsoo Lee was detained in Hawaii this weekend, charged by the FBI with the crime of holding Vietnamese workers under conditions of "involuntary servitude and forced labor" at the Daewoosa factory in American Samoa.

The FBI complaint also charges that Kilsoo Lee "defrauded, failed to pay and at times deprived of food, beat and physically restrained these workers to force them to work"--serious violations of U.S. Federal law. 

However, Wal-Mart, Target and Sears have not yet paid back wages to the Vietnamese workers. To date, J.C. Penney is the only company that has done the right thing and paid all back wages.


Feds uncover American Samoa sweatshop

A report details physical beatings, inhumane conditions and forced labor

By Mary Adamski

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 24, 2001

THE OWNER OF A CLOTHING factory in American Samoa held his Vietnamese and Chinese employees prisoner and forced them to work in inhumane conditions, according to a complaint filed in Honolulu federal court.

An investigation by FBI agents determined that the president of Daewoosa Samoa Ltd. "defrauded, failed to pay and at times deprived of food, beat and physically restrained these workers to force them to work," said FBI Special Agent William S. Denson in the document sworn before U.S. Magistrate Leslie Kobayashi yesterday.

The criminal complaint charged Kil Soo Lee with involuntary servitude and forced labor, violations of federal law.

The federal investigation into the sweatshop operation in the American territory began after some workers brought their complaints to church workers. The U.S. Department of Labor launched an investigation earlier this year.

The clothing factory located in the Daniel K. Inouye Industrial Park in Tafuna, American Samoa, employed up to 250 people.

Denson said Special Agent Charles E. Beckwith of the Honolulu office interviewed workers who were flown to American Samoa by way of Honolulu.

"Lee stated to investigators that workers he imported through Hawaii had tried to 'escape.' Based on witness interviews, subsequent worker groups were thereafter rerouted through New Zealand," according to Denson's affidavit.

The workers included Chinese, employed in 1999, and Vietnamese who were brought there last year.

According to the FBI complaint:

* The temperature in the plant reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit during work hours.

* Workers were not paid for periods of three to six months.

* Vietnamese workers signed three-year contracts for $408 per month. But they were required to pay $4,000 before leaving Vietnam, and some were charged an "immigration fee" of $1,500. * Lee charged them $200 per month room and board, deducted from their pay. * They lived in barracks, 36 people to a room, in rooms described as wet, dirty and rat-infested.

When Chinese workers complained about not being paid and being given inedible food, "Lee withheld the workers' food for two days and locked the gate to the facility. Lee called the police to arrest the workers he identified as leaders, claiming that they were being 'assaultive.'"

The affidavit said a Legal Aid attorney, Christa Lin Tsu-Hsiu, was contacted to assist the four jailed workers. Lee sent those workers back and denied further work to those who tried to get legal help.

Last November, according to witnesses, "Daewoosa supervisors and other Samoan workers and security guards then assaulted and beat the Vietnamese workers, causing severe and permanent bodily injury."

One person suffered permanent hearing impairment, and another lost an eye, according to the court document.

Lee traveled to Hawaii to apply for a loan for factory construction, and checks on the company's Bank of Hawaii account in Samoa were cashed in Honolulu, according to the affidavit.

The FBI investigation found that the clothing made in the Daewoosa factory was shipped to Los Angeles.

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