U.S. Government Buys Uniforms from Foreign Companies that Exploit Workers

Thursday, December 26, 2013
Bangladesh garment worker (photo: Rajib Dhar, Dhaka Tribune)

The Obama administration has urged Western companies to fight for better working conditions for overseas workers in sweatshops. But at the same time, federal agencies have continued to purchase uniforms made in other countries where employees are repeatedly exploited, if not abused.


The U.S. government purchases about $1.5 billion a year in clothing from foreign factories for operations ranging from the Forest Service to the U.S. military.


This practice has not let up, even though the Obama administration has decried the exploitation of foreign workers.


Ian Urbina at The New York Times reported: “American government suppliers in countries including Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Pakistan and Vietnam show a pattern of legal violations and harsh working conditions, according to audits and interviews at factories. Among them: padlocked fire exits, buildings at risk of collapse, falsified wage records and repeated hand punctures from sewing needles when workers were pushed to hurry up.”


The bad examples involving the federal government include:


DK Knitwear in Bangladesh, which makes Marine Corps shirts for sale at military stores. The sweatshop’s workforce is 30% children. Workers have been beaten for missing production quotas, and forced to work in a location with no fire alarm system, despite previous outbreaks of fire.


The Georgie & Lou factory in Thailand, which makes clothing sold by the Smithsonian Institution. Workers there can lose 5% of their daily wages ($10) for any clothing they make that has flaws. They also endure physical harassment by managers and video surveillance in bathrooms.


Zongtex Garment Manufacturing in Cambodia, which makes clothes sold by the Army and Air Force. It also employs under-age workers, some as young as 15. Some workers have soiled themselves at their sewing machines because of restrictions on bathroom breaks.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

U.S. Flouts Its Own Advice in Procuring Overseas Clothing (by Ian Urbina, New York Times)


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