An attorney’s memoir of a notable case she argued on behalf of workers in American Samoa.
In a blend of personal stories, travelogue and courtroom drama, attorney Sudbury recounts a class-action lawsuit she filed on behalf of Vietnamese workers in a Samoan garment factory. The workers claimed that they found themselves in slavery-like conditions while they sewed “Made in America” labels onto clothing. The case began when several workers from the Daewoosa factory approached Sudbury and her husband to find out if they could help them recover unpaid wages. The Sudburys had settled in Samoa after several years in Baja, Calif., where they ran both a private law practice and an agency that supported abused women. Although Sudbury was initially reluctant, she agreed to take the case and became personally and emotionally involved as the challenges mounted. Daewoosa enjoyed support from the local government, and the workers had reason to believe their families in Vietnam would suffer as a result of the lawsuit. Sudbury’s frustration is palpable as she describes the pretrial process; excerpts from the courtroom transcripts make it clear to the reader that while American Samoa is, in part, governed by the laws of the United States, it’s also shaped by the local non-progressive culture. Although Sudbury and her allies fought hard for the workers’ rights, she acknowledges that the U.S. government brought real relief, by providing visas to the workers as victims of human trafficking. The government also brought criminal charges against Daewoosa’s owner that exacted a more substantial punishment than the lawsuit could. The author’s writing is engaging, if a bit unfocused at times. Sudbury sprinkles local color throughout the book, although some of the digressions on Samoan driving habits and traditional dress don’t blend seamlessly into the narrative. The story doesn’t end with a personal legal triumph, but Sudbury makes it clear in this book that she was pleased with the outcome, and changed by the experience.
A fine memoir about a lawyer’s fight for workers’ rights.