By  on April 26, 1994

ORLANDO, Fla. -- If you want to sell to L.L. Bean, you better clean up your act.

Environmental considerations rank equally with Quick Response and quality, an executive of L.L. Bean warned textile leaders meeting here. Lack of environmental soundness by a supplier, or even by that supplier's supplier, could cost it the Bean account, he added.

"We have stopped doing business with at least one vendor because of environmental problems, and we have started doing business with some companies because of environmental advancements," said David Mention, Bean's manager of process improvement, a speaker at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute's annual meeting, which concluded here Saturday.

In other convention news, Rep. John Spratt (D., S.C), chairman of the Congressional Textile Caucus, said in an interview he thinks the GATT Uruguay Round treaty will eventually pass Congress, "but I wouldn't bet on it right now."

"Much remains to be seen. There is opposition to GATT and it is widespread," said Spratt. "I think the trade unions will oppose it, and there probably will be a broad-based coalition formed to fight it.

"It is very early to tell how it will shape up," Spratt added. "I don't think most members of the House have really begun to think about it yet."

Spratt conceded that although the ATMI was not officially opposing it, individual textile leaders are. Roger Milliken, chairman of Milliken & Co., as reported, expressed grave concern at an ATMI board meeting here about the World Trade Organization, which will take over administration of global trade laws after the final GATT is signed into law.

Spratt's Congressional district in South Carolina includes Spartanburg, Milliken & Co.'s headquarters. Some people refer to it as "Milliken's district."

Asked if he shared Milliken's concern about WTO, Spratt said, "I am concerned about how it is set up and the lack of recourse we have in trade disputes. But I am not fully informed about WTO."

Further underscoring the importance of environmental considerations, Bean's Mention said he was meeting with 21 major Bean suppliers, who "account for between one-third and one-half of our supply" to discuss their commitment to the environment. The company is also surveying its suppliers on that issue."The four goals of this survey," he said, "are to raise environmental awareness of the suppliers, to find out what is involved in producing the product, to identify high performers -- that is, who is doing a good environmental job -- and to identify low performers, and where liability might turn up. We include the environment as part of our business planning now.

"Bean doesn't really know now what this means to their customers, but we are doing a study to find out," Mention said. "When we rate our suppliers, environmental soundness is right there with quality goods, timely delivery, innovations and the soundness of their business, that is, if they are there for the long run. If a vendor's goods have promise, we will work with them on the environmental issues."

Fabric suppliers to Bean or to Bean's vendors -- and there were several in the audience -- were urged by Mention to "ask your upstream suppliers about environmental issues, such as dyestuffs."

He indicated that this upstream responsibility would increase as suppliers are evaluated by retailers.

Textile leaders got some good news concerning imports, or more specifically, illegal imports, from the new Commissioner of U.S. Customs, George Weiss, another speaker.

"Your industry has taken enough," Weiss told the gathering. "It is time to eliminate fraudulent import practices. Transshipments have cost many jobs and much money. Violations are blatant.

"President Clinton has given orders to fix this problem," he added. "Customs fraud has been given high priority. While over 200,000 government jobs have been eliminated, Customs will be given more people."

Some of the changes, Weiss said, include an increase from 30 days to 180 days to find evidence of transshipments, and the consideration of making transshipment violations a major trade violation, "which they are not today."

There is also a reconstruction of the Customs Bureau, he said.

"There has been a streamlining of the organization and an elimination of a lot of mid-level management. We are also eliminating seven regional offices and 45 district offices. In their place will be five strong trade centers. This will save from $100,000 to $300,000, which will be used for enforcement of Customs rules."Weiss asked the ATMI for more input in changing Customs.

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