The Marianas Fund resulted from the landmark settlement of the Saipan sweatshop lawsuits. In 1999, three separate lawsuits were filed on behalf of garment workers in the Western Pacific Island of Saipan (also known as the Marianas Islands), who worked under sweatshop conditions in garment factories that sewed clothes for major U.S. retailers.

In California, four organizations, Asian Law Caucus, Global Exchange, Sweatshop Watch, and UNITE, filed a lawsuit alleging that retailers had misled U.S. consumers by purporting that their products were manufactured in the U.S., and therefore, sweatshop-free.  By 2003, 27 retailers, including big name brands Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap Inc., J. Crew, and Target Corp., settled the lawsuits for $20 million.

The settlement established a fund to give the worker access to restitution for the conditions they endured, and to finance an independent monitoring program on the island, as well as related public education, attorney fees, and administrative costs. The Marianas Fund was created to further public education work around sweatshop issues, resulting in one-time grants to several worker rights organizations. The Fund also supported the convening of its grantee organizations to explore ways to further the victory of the Saipan settlement.