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:
Mr. Dan M. Tangherlini
U.S. General Services Administration
One Constitution Square
1275 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20417
Dear Mr. Tangherlini:
As you know, recent press reports have highlighted the lack of federal government oversight and disclosure in regards to the federal procurement of clothing made overseas. The United States government spends more than $1.5 billion annually on these foreign-made products, and according to these reports many of these goods are produced in factories with intolerable working conditions.
Following the Rana Plaza fire in Bangladesh, many commentators expressed concerns about the sourcing and production of consumer goods. Too often, employees – from Haiti to Vietnam to Bangladesh – can be forced to work without overtime pay, suffer physical abuse when they do not meet production numbers, and be forced to work in unsafe buildings without necessary breaks.
It is absolutely vital that the United States sets a global standard for workplace practices and does not conduct business with contractors who utilize factories with unsafe working conditions, particularly child labor. I sincerely hope that we can work together to better ensure that government agencies are not only aware of the production location of their uniforms, but that factory working conditions are also taken into account when making procurement decisions.
Given concerns about the sourcing of items purchased by the United States government, I believe that it is imperative that a number of questions be addressed:
1.) What steps are being taken to ensure compliance with Executive Order 13126, "Prohibition of Acquisition of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor,” by current contractors and sub-contractors?
2.) What steps are being taken to ensure compliance with Executive Order 13627, “Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts,” by current contractors and sub-contractors?
3.) Has the Administration’s approach to either or both of these executive orders (13126 and 13627) been affected by recent reports about the federal procurement of goods manufactured by sweatshops?
4.) Does the United States government track the location of factories that contract, or sub-contract, to produce items purchased by the United States Government?
5.) Does the Administration possess the authority to disclose the location of factories that contract, or sub-contract, to produce items purchased by the United States Government? If so, I ask that U.S. General Services Administration, with the relevant agencies, disclose the location of factories that contract, or sub-contract, to produce items purchased by the United States Government? If not, what authorities are required from Congress?
It is imperative to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to support inhumane work practices abroad. I look forward to your response, and appreciate your attention to and assistance with this matter.
United States Senator