WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) urged the General Services Administration (GSA), which makes purchases for the federal government, to set a global example by not conducting business with contractors who violate labor rights and worker safety laws, especially as they apply to child labor. To achieve this, Brown urged the GSA to ensure that American federal agencies not only disclose the locations of the factories they contract with, but that they are aware of and take their working conditions into account when making purchasing decisions.
“It’s not in the interest of American jobs, American taxpayers, or global human rights when our government procures goods from factories with records of blatant international labor violations,” Brown. “But the limited enforcement actions our government has at its disposal are undermined by a simple lack of disclosure. American taxpayers deserve to know the addresses of factories receiving contracts before they are awarded.”
Brown’s effort follows recent press reports that have cited a lack of federal government oversight and disclosure as it relates to its purchase of products made overseas. The federal government, in fact, spends more than $1.5 billion a year on foreign-made products, with too many made in substandard to intolerable working conditions. That is why Brown called for the GSA to take action and requested that it detail its efforts to monitor these conditions, track the factory locations of its contractors and subcontractors, and lawfully disclose this information to Congress.
Brown has long fought to improve the working conditions of workers both domestic and abroad. For instance, in June 2013, Brown led letters to major retailers calling on them to sign-onto the Bangladesh Accord on Fiore and Building Safety, an independent agreement of retailers, Non-governmental Organizations (NGO), and labor unions to commit resources towards factory improvements in Bangladesh. Brown also urged President Obama to do all within his power to pressure Bangladesh to support safer working conditions that could have prevented the worst garment factory accident in history. Following Brown’s call, President Obama announced later that week that he would indefinitely suspend trade preferences for Bangladesh until it makes marked progress on efforts to ensure worker safety and protect labor rights. In May 2013, more than 1,100 workers were killed, and hundreds of others permanently disabled, when the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed.
Brown has also led the fight to ensure that that the U.S. federal government “Buy America” when it makes purchases and funds projects. The Buy America Act requires the U.S. government to use American-made products. The Act allows for preferential treatment to domestically produced materials used for mass-transit-related projects which are funded through the federal government.
Last year, Brown successfully amended the highway bill and water infrastructure bill to strengthen “Buy America” provisions and close loopholes. In October 2013, Brown applauded a decision by Ralph Lauren Corp. to use only domestic craftsmen and manufacturers for the Team USA Olympic uniforms that will be worn for the 2014 Winter Games in Russia. In July 2012, following a report that Team USA’s uniforms were made in China, Brown called on the U.S. Olympic Committee to utilize American clothing manufacturers for the summer Olympic uniforms and use domestic clothing makers for future Olympics, including the 2014 Winter Games. Brown also introduced a “Buy America” plan to ensure that the federal government purchases apparel that is 100 percent American made. Current “Buy America” statutes require that only 51 percent of these products purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars be “made in America.”
Brown’s letter to Administrator of the GSA, Dan M. Tangherlini, can be read in its entirety below:
United States Senator