WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation Tuesday that would ban the sale in the U.S. of imported products deemed to be made in “sweatshops” overseas.
Sens. Byron Dorgan (D, N.D.), Lindsey Graham (R, S.C.) and Sherrod Brown (D, Ohio) introduced the “Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act” with the objective of cracking down on products made in factories overseas where “workers are abused in violation of that country’s labor laws.”
Dorgan introduced a similar bill in the Senate last year and Brown was one of several co-sponsors in the House who introduced companion legislation. Neither bill gained traction last year with Republicans in power. It is difficult to gauge whether the bill will move further now that Democrats have control of Congress.
The bill would direct the Federal Trade Commission to conduct an investigation, based on complaints, to determine whether a foreign factory was abusing employees producing apparel and other products in violation of core International Labor Organization standards. If such a ruling were made, the FTC would issue an order prohibiting products from the factory from being imported into the U.S. Each violation of that order would carry a civil penalty of $10,000. Customs & Border Protection, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, would be required to enforce the penalties.
He added the bill would give American companies the right to sue their competitors in U.S. courts if those competitors were selling merchandise produced in sweatshops.
“We’re not trying to put companies in a ‘gotcha’ situation where they are held liable for something they couldn’t really control or didn’t know about,” said Graham. “You’re not going to suffer because you were deceived. You will suffer if you [knowingly] play the game [using sweatshop labor] and get a competitive advantage.”
Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, said in a statement, “The bill recognizes that the United States cannot control labor law enforcement in other countries, but it can, however, control which imports are allowed to pass through our borders. If passed, this legislation will grant third parties the opportunity to block sweatshop goods from entering the United States.”
Brenda Jacobs, counsel for the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, said, “Many of our preference programs ask our trading partners to meet international labor standards and condition continuation of benefits on maintaining and improving implementation. That carrot approach is far more attractive and useful than the private stick approach.”