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House Steps Into Bangladesh Safety Issue

An amendment to a Department of Defense spending bill would require all apparel made in Bangladesh and sold at military base stores comply with binding accord.

The scene at The Rana Plaza garment factory.

WASHINGTON — Two House Democrats are seeking to have a vote on an amendment to a Department of Defense spending bill that would require all apparel made in Bangladesh and sold at military base stores, known as exchanges, to comply with a binding, enforceable accord on building and fire safety in Bangladesh.

Reps. George Miller (D., Calif.) and Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) offered the amendment on Wednesday. The lawmakers said a number of garments and documents bearing Marine insignias were found in the rubble of the Tazreen Fashion fire in November that killed 112 garment workers. They said public data indicates that the Army-Air Force Exchange imported 124,000 pounds of licensed garments last year from several garment factories in Bangladesh.

While licensed and branded goods sold at military base stores can be made anywhere in the world, all military uniforms procured must be made in the U.S.

“Workers that manufacture clothing embossed with our nation’s military slogans and insignias shouldn’t have to face blocked fire exits and threats of being fired for refusing to work in unsafe conditions, Miller said. “Likewise, clothing licensed and sold in military exchanges owned by the Department of Defense are made in conditions that uphold our nation’s core values and internationally recognized labor standards.”

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Schakowsky said, “It is not only unjust but inhumane that garment workers barely make ends meet and are subjected to working in unsafe buildings, many of which don’t have fire escapes or potable water. As a huge purchaser of garments, the U.S. military should not be complicit in putting the lives of Bangladesh’s workers in grave danger. Even the clothing sold to our servicemen and women, some bearing the proud word Marines, should reflect the values they are bravely protecting. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this amendment, which would make a difference in the lives of garment workers and improve conditions in Bangladesh’s garment factories.”

The pressure is mounting on retailers and brands in the wake of Tazreen and the Rana Plaza building collapse in April that claimed the lives of 1,129 garment workers.

The two lawmakers are urging companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Gap Inc. to sign on to a legally binding accord, led by the IndustriALL Global Union, that over 40 mainly European retailers and brands have signed. Three American companies — PVH Corp., Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and Sean John — have signed that accord. A coalition of North American retailers and brands, led by Wal-Mart and Gap, are formulating their own safety plan, citing legal liabilities in the IndustriALL accord.

The amendment would require military exchanges that sell their own branded garments that are made in Bangladesh to join or “abide by” the conditions of the InudstriALL-led accord. It would also require military exchanges that license apparel for their own stores to give preference to vendors that have signed the legally binding accord.