WASHINGTON — Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.), an outspoken critic of the apparel industry record on worker safety in foreign factories, most recently in Bangladesh, said Monday he will not seek reelection this fall after spending 40 years in the House advocating for labor rights around the globe.
Miller, 68, has chaired three committees in the House and is currently the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. While he wrote and sponsored major legislation affecting labor and health policy as well as the education system in the U.S. during his tenure, Miller was best known to the fashion industry as a staunch advocate of garment workers in Bangladesh and a critic of the fashion industry’s supply chain practices in the wake of two factory tragedies that claimed the lives of more than 1,240 workers in the past 14 months.
Among the top priorities Miller listed for his remaining year in Congress — next to pushing for an increase in the minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour from the current $7.25 and making college more affordable — was the goal to “Encourage American companies to embrace international labor standards in their substandard factories in Bangladesh and other countries.”
The Tazreen Fashions Ltd. fire in November 2012 and the Rana Plaza building collapse this past April sparked a global outcry against Western brands and retailers. Under pressure, the industry mobilized to launch two safety initiatives aimed at improving worker and building safety in the country’s $20 billion garment export industry. The government of Bangladesh also came under fire and lost its duty-free trade benefits under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences, a move for which Miller advocated on Capitol Hill.
When hooded sweatshirts and matching sweatpants bearing “Semper Fi” and “U.S. Marines” were found in the rubble of Tazreen, Miller cosponsored legislation in June that would require all military licensed and branded apparel sold at military stores to comply with a five-year binding agreement dubbed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The legislation, which passed the House but has stalled in Congress, put the government procurement policies in the U.S. in the spotlight.
“The reason that factory managers keep their workers in unsafe buildings on the verge of going up in flames or collapsing is fear,” Miller wrote in his piece. “Fear that the Western brands and retailers will take their orders elsewhere because of a missed day of production, late delivery or a miniscule increase in production costs. The brands know this. That’s why I believe they bear the ultimate responsibility for these horrendously unsafe working conditions. It is time that American consumers understand which brands will accept blood on their labels and which will not.”
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