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Olympic Outfit Controversy Heats Up

Nine Democratic senators followed through on a pledge to introduce legislation that would require the USOC to outfit the U.S. team in clothing made in America.

WASHINGTON — The controversy over the U.S. Olympic Committee’s outfitting of American athletes in Chinese-made uniforms and apparel took another twist on Monday as a group of nine Democratic senators followed through on a pledge to introduce legislation that would require the USOC to outfit the U.S. team in clothing made in America for all future Olympic games.

This story first appeared in the July 17, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Led by Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), the senators introduced the “Team USA Made in America Act” on Monday that would require the USOC to adhere to a procurement policy that requires all ceremonial uniforms for the U.S. Olympic team to be “sewn or assembled in the United States with fabrics formed and cut in the U.S. or components knit to shape from yarns wholly formed in the U.S.”

“While I was shocked that it’s not already a given that Team USA’s ceremonial uniforms must be made in America, I welcome the United States Olympic Committee’s commitment to rely on American manufacturers and industry to produce uniforms for our future American Olympians,” said Menendez. “And while I appreciate that commitment, I look forward to the quick passage of this patriotic jobs bill so that the United States never finds itself in this embarrassing, baffling situation again.”

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The senators moved forward with the introduction of the bill Monday despite Ralph Lauren’s pledge on Friday to make the uniforms for the 2014 Games in the U.S.

The bill is also cosponsored by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D., N.J.), Bob Casey (D., Pa.), Charles Schumer (D. N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), Debbie Stabenow (D. Mich.), Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) and Jay Rockefeller (D., W.V.).

The bill would amend the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act and cover all uniforms, including accessories, such as ties, belts, shoes and hats, requiring them to meet the standards of the Federal Trade Commission for labeling as “Made in the USA.”

The USOC must also provide a detailed justification for allowing uniforms and clothing sourced overseas if it cannot meet the procurement requirement.

Things were tense across the pond as well.

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Adidas on Monday denied reports in London’s Sunday Telegraph that it was underpaying workers in one of the factories producing merchandise for 2012 Olympics fans.

The British paper said that a factory working for Adidas suppliers in Shen Zhou, on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, was paying workers $120 a month for 10 hours’ work per day, six days a week. It said the workers were living in “squalid conditions” and sleeping three to a bed.

“Workers at the factory earn an average of $130 a month, which is well above the minimum wage,” Adidas said in a statement Monday.

“It is important to note that the industry has agreed to introduce higher allowances in Cambodia from September, and we will ensure our suppliers pay those wage increases.

“The Adidas Group only conducts business with overseas manufacturers who work in a fair, honest and responsible manner. We have strict procedures in place to ensure that the individuals employed to make Adidas products are paid and treated fairly.

“Furthermore, all factories that work with us are subject to regular labor, health and safety audits conducted by independent third parties in association with the Fair Labor Association and Adidas’ compliance team.

“All suppliers we work with for London 2012 products are on a LOCOG (London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) list of authorized suppliers that is available online. All our partners have to sign a manufacturing agreement with us and they all comply with our workplace standards.”

In a separate statement, LOCOG said: “We have just been made aware of this allegation, and are taking it very seriously. We will investigate the situation in collaboration with LOCOG’s independent monitor.

“We understand that the Shen Zhou factory is part of the internationally recognized ILO labor rights program, which means that it is inspected by the ILO or World Bank program.

“We regularly remind all of our licensees of the importance we place on the sustainable sourcing code they have each signed up to. LOCOG is one of only a small handful of organizations in the world that has a robust grievance mechanism in place.”