Labor groups on Monday called on President Obama and the government to adopt new regulations to ensure safe working conditions at all federal government apparel contractors.
The reaction came in the wake of a front-page New York Times story that the International Labor Rights Forum said “links abusive working conditions in overseas sweatshops to purchasing by several U.S. federal agencies and entities.”
Citing audits and interviews at factories, the Times article said there is a “pattern of legal violations and harsh working conditions” in overseas plants used by U.S. government clothing suppliers in such countries as Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Pakistan and Vietnam. The safety violations range from locked fire exits, structurally unsound buildings, falsified wage records and repeated workplace injuries.
The American Apparel & Footwear Association told WWD that $1.6 billion worth of uniforms was procured last year through the Defense Logistics Agency for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and other federal agencies. The figure for overall government uniforms and clothing not purchased through DLA for agencies such as the Forest Service is much larger, said an AAFA spokesman, although an exact amount was unavailable. RELATED STORY: Bangladesh Tragedies' Next Chapters: Charges Filed, Relief Fund Created >>
The global fashion industry and labor rights groups have mobilized to address serious and rampant safety and working condition violations in Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry in the wake of the Tazreen Fashions fire in November 2012 and the Rana Plaza building collapse this past April that killed more than a combined 1,240 workers. The groups have also pressured Congress and the Obama administration to require federal agencies to tighten their procurement policies relating to outsourced apparel, after garments bearing Marine insignias were found in the rubble of Tazreen.
“Over a year after 112 workers were killed in a fire at a factory that sewed Marines logo clothing, the rest of the U.S. government still has not taken action to prevent unsafe and abusive working conditions in the factories that make procured or licensed apparel, or clothing sold at military exchanges,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the ILRF. “The Tazreen fire and the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed tenfold more garment workers just a few months later should be a wake-up call to the U.S. government to put into place enforceable labor standards to ensure workers’ rights and transparency in government supply chains.”
The ILRF called for 10 steps to safe and legal conditions in U.S. government contractor facilities, including increased supply chain transparency; adoption and enforcement of labor standards in procurement, licensing and military exchange supply chains, and addressing the root causes of labor violations through fair pricing and related responsible purchasing practices. The Marine Corps and Navy do not require independent audits of factories, while the Air Force and Army exchanges rely on audits from retailers, according to the Times.
Some experts question the details of the Times article, such as whether the clothing were actual military uniforms, where stricter “Made in America” guidelines are involved, or if the goods in question were more related to licensed goods sold at military base exchange stores for public consumption. They also noted that the article was lacking in specifics on the percentage of clothing found to be made in so-called sweatshop conditions, and was unclear on what organizations conducted factory inspections or audits.
Kevin Burke, AAFA’s president and chief executive officer, said, “Whether it is sourcing products at home or abroad, or by the U.S. government or by private industry, we urge that steps be taken to ensure that goods are produced in a socially responsible, safe and sustainable manner. AAFA has a long history of providing the industry with valuable resources and intelligence as it continually improves its supply chain. We look forward to engaging with the U.S. government as it addresses similar supply-chain concerns because collaboration is one of the most important components in our collective progress.”
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said based on the report, “The United States government has failed to ensure transparency and integrity in the government supply chain, and this has fostered international sweatshops and egregious labor-law violations. We call on President Obama to end these appalling practices.”
Trumka said the investigative piece should “outrage American taxpayers as they learn that their hard-earned tax dollars are funding factories with documented abusive and inhumane conditions, as we have seen in Bangladesh.
“The Obama administration should strengthen executive orders on procurement to ensure that companies earning profits from U.S. taxpayer dollars do not break labor laws and violate human rights at home and abroad,” he said. “The administration should ensure transparency by mandating the disclosure of factory locations where workers produce these goods. In addition, the U.S. government should explicitly reward high-road companies that respect labor laws and workers’ rights. Additionally, contractors must be required to release all social audits and inspection reports to the U.S. government. Finally, the Department of Labor should establish a published list, [General Services Administration] database and Web site on labor violations and government contractors.”
ILRF applauded the recent move by the Marine Corps Trademark & Licensing Office to require licensees that manufacture in Bangladesh to join the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a five-year binding agreement led by IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union and signed by 115 retailers and brands. The ILRF and other labor officials are calling on the U.S. government to require all federal agencies to use only retail and apparel brands that have signed the accord.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said, “It’s outrageous that the U.S. government would be involved in purchasing goods that have been made by workers being exploited by unscrupulous factory owners in other countries.”
Last month, Appelbaum was part of a delegation that included New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, that traveled to Dhaka to meet with survivors of the Rana Plaza factory collapse and Tazreen factory fire and others involved in improving work conditions in Bangladesh garment factories. The delegation also met with H&M executives involved in improving conditions in the garment sector, labor leaders who are organizing garment workers, and Rob Wayss, the Dhaka-based executive director of the accord.
Appelbaum called on President Obama and the federal government to sign the accord and pressure U.S. retailers and brands to do so as well. He said the North American-based Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety is a “publicity stunt” that “denies binding responsibility.”
Reps. George Miller (D., Calif.) and Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.), who introduced legislation in June that would require all military licensed and branded apparel sold at military base stores to comply with the accord, said in a joint statement: “The New York Times’ reporting reveals that the U.S. military exchange store system fails to effectively monitor the working conditions at its suppliers. This inaction virtually assures that many garments sold at Military Exchanges are made by underpaid, poorly treated workers toiling in hazardous conditions. While the Marine Corps Trademark & Licensing Office has required licensees and manufacturers to join the accord or abide by its conditions in order to protect the Marine Corps brand and uphold fundamental American values related to workers’ rights and safety, the rest of the system’s oversight is in dire need of reform.”
Donatella Versace will receive the International Award at the 2018 @cfda awards, which were announced tonight. Tap link in bio for a list of all the nominees and honorees. #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @rahirezvanistudio )
The 2018 @cfda Awards nominees are out! @virgilabloh for @off____white for is nominated for Womenswear Designer of the Year. Tap link in bio for all the nominees. #wwdnews #wwdfashion ( 📷: @simonelezzi)
@chanelofficial is suing high-end vintage retailer @whatgoesaroundnyc for trademark infringement, a move that could cost the retailer millions. The French fashion house claims that it’s not only unintentionally sold counterfeit goods on occasion, but that it’s “gone out of its way to create an association with Chanel,” which does not exist. Read Chanel’s statement on WWD.com #wwdnews (@aitorrosasphoto)
Exclusive: Guillaume Henry has left @ninaricci, the fashion house said on Thursday. “After three years of mutually gratifying creative collaboration, Nina Ricci and Guillaume Henry have together decided that the designer will depart the house after the presentation of the fall-winter 2018-19 collection,” Ricci said in a statement. Get all the details on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: @aitorrosasphoto)
“When Bella enters a room all heads turn,” said @peterphilipsmakeup, creative and image director for @diormakeup. Last night, the two celebrated the product launch of Dior’s Lacquer Plump in Los Angeles with other celebs like @parisjackson, @winnieharlow and more. Head to WWD.com to see the rest of the photos from the night (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
“These shirts are an art form, it’s about getting the message out to as many people as you can. It breaks down the pretentiousness of the art gallery,” says Kumasi Sadiki, cofounder of @ebayontheblock, a store that sells merchandise by New York artists who are shifting their attention to clothes as a wearable medium. Pictured here is a design by artist @joegarvey_, one of the first to spearhead this movement. Head to WWD.com to read @mistywhitesidell full story on how their designs have become merch for the underground elite #wwdfashion
@netaporter is dedicating a part of its website – called the Fine Jewelry and Watch Destination – to highlight its high-end jewelry. The hub will feature products on the site, as well as incorporate styling advice and educational content about high-priced jewelry items. Get more details on WWD.com. #wwdaccessories
For “The Cher Show,” an upcoming musical based on @cher’s life and career, @bobmackie is once again collaborating with the singer in designing the costumes. For decades, Mackie has designed glitzy stage costumes and red carpet looks for the 71-year-old Grammy winner. Pictured here is a sketch of some of the pieces in the wardrobe of the musical, which is set to debut in Chicago on June 12 before making its way to Broadway #wwdeye