What does the label "made in USA" really mean? It's a question raised by the amount of clothing now being produced in America's South Pacific territories which legally qualifies for this description, but where workers' pay and conditions fall well below the levels that would be acceptable in the US mainland.

US attorney general John Ashcroft has even described the status of clothing industry workers in these American industrial outposts as "nothing less than modern-day slavery."

The true situation in some of the factories responsible for manufacturing garments for sale in the US has most recently come to light with the trial in Washington of Lee Kil-son, the Korean-born owner of a clothing plant based in the Samoan capital of Pago Pago.

Among the crimes of which he was accused was "human trafficking," attracting workers from other parts of the region, most notably Vietnam, with false promises of well paid work.

Further allegations against Lee Kil-son are that workers' subsequent attempts to gain their legal rights via industrial action were brutally suppressed. He has been found guilty and will be sentenced in June this year.

Much of the problem seems to arise from the islands' remoteness which means factory inspectors rarely, if ever, visit.

And the fact that goods made in these locations can be shipped to the USA without being liable for import duty continues to make them attractive to buyers. Among the outlets currently retailing goods produced in the South Pacific are JC Penney and the Sears group, while much of the merchandise which will ultimately be sold under the Spalding brand derives from the same source.

By Sonia Roberts.