WASHINGTON — The House took the first Congressional action on the Bangladesh garment safety issue on Friday.
The chamber passed a comprehensive Department of Defense spending bill that would require all military licensed and branded apparel sold at military base stores to comply with a binding, enforceable accord on fire and building safety in Bangladesh’s garment industry.
The defense spending bill passed on a vote of 315 to 108. However, it faces significant hurdles, including a veto threat issued by the White House, citing opposition to several provisions in the legislation. It would also have to be reconciled with a Senate spending bill in conference and it is unclear whether there is support for the Bangladesh amendment in the Senate.
House lawmakers adopted an amendment to the bill late Thursday night offered by Reps. George Miller (D., Calif.) and Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) that would require military exchanges that sell their own branded and licensed garments made in Bangladesh to join or “abide by” the conditions of a legally binding safety accord, led by IndustriALL Global Union. So far 50 mainly European retailers and brands have signed the accord but only three American companies — PVH Corp., Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and Sean John.
The provision would also require military stores, known as exchanges, that license apparel for their own stores to give preference to vendors that have signed the legally binding accord. 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.
The lawmakers said a number of garments and documents bearing Marines insignias were found in the rubble of the Tazreen Fashion fire in November that killed 112 garment workers. They said public data indicate that the Army-Air Force Exchange imported 124,000 pounds of licensed garments last year from several garment factories in Bangladesh.
Miller said hooded sweatshirts bearing “Semper Fi” or “U.S. Marines” and matching sweatpants were found in the rubble, in addition to a tank top that said “The Few. The Proud.” He said the Marine Corps exchange licensed its brand to a North Carolina company, Delta Apparel, and the production was sent to Bangladesh, according to order books found in the ashes.
“Our goal is not to stop or slow the Bangladesh garment industry. I believe that this country is an important U.S. ally,” Miller said. “Our goal is to ensure that the purchasing power of our military exchanges will continue to promote American values of fairness, justice and human rights.”
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. Miller and Schakowsky also pressured Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Gap Inc. to sign on to the legally binding accord. However, Wal-Mart and Gap are leading a coalition of North American retailers and brands in formulating their own safety plan, citing legal liabilities in the international agreement.