Labor conditions at factories producing uniforms, apparel and textiles used by federal and state governments came under increased scrutiny last week.

This story first appeared in the December 14, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

New York State on Thursday pledged to purchase government goods from businesses that adhere to labor laws when it joined the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium.

Gov. David Paterson said, “I will do everything I can to ensure that state government funds are not used to support sweatshop conditions.”

New York joined state and local governments from Maine; Pennsylvania; San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; Austin, Tex.; Milwaukee, and other municipalities in the consortium. The mission of the group is to help its members eradicate sweatshops from government supply chains and provide incentives for responsible business operations.

New York’s decision was significant, and it will help efforts to end sweatshop labor gain some traction, said Bruce Raynor, president of Workers United, an affiliate of SEIU.

“This means that the state is much more committed to use its power of purchasing,” Raynor said. A coalition of customers has a much greater impact on industry practices than a single entity, and New York adds momentum to the trend of purchasers who are committed to responsible sourcing, he said.

Separately on Thursday, the SweatFree Communities organization released a report detailing poor working conditions at firms that supply apparel to the federal government and military.

According to the report, Eagle Industries, a subsidiary of Alliant Techsystems, and Propper International, both Missouri-based companies that produce military uniforms and gear, operated factories in the U.S. and Puerto Rico with poor working conditions. Eagle Industries supplied the federal government and New York State. Propper International manufactured soldiers’ uniforms for the U.S. Army.

SweatFree Communities alleged in its report that Propper International operated nine factories where abuses included poverty-level wages, poor worker benefits, health and safety issues and discrimination. The report detailed similar issues at one recently closed Eagle Industries factory.

Calls to Eagle Industries and Propper International were not returned.

According to SweatFree Communities, the federal government spends $4.1 billion on apparel and textile products each year. In its report, the organization alleged sweatshop conditions are common in the domestic apparel industry and called on the federal government to commit to sourcing from factories where there are no labor violations.

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