Labor Calls on U.S. to Purge Abuses from Government Supply Chain

Labor groups are calling on President Obama to clean up the federal supply chain after a recent New York Times article cited severe, unsafe working conditions and legal violations in foreign factories that supply uniforms and other clothing to the U.S. government.

“The United States government has failed to ensure transparency and integrity in the government supply chain, and this has fostered international sweatshops and egregious labor law violations. We call on President Obama to end these appalling practices,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a Dec. 23 statement.

“The U.S. government is a major buyer at the top of numerous global supply chains,” he added. “The Obama administration should strengthen executive orders on procurement to ensure that companies earning profits from U.S. taxpayer dollars do not break labor laws and violate human rights at home and abroad.”

Trumka also said Congress should require respect for labor rights as a condition of maintaining status as a government contractor, and called on the Department of Labor to maintain a database and website on government contractors and labor violations.

The U.S. government spends more than $1.5 billion a year on clothing from foreign factories, according to the Times, which reported that suppliers in several countries commit such violations as locked fire exits, unstable buildings and fake wage records. The report also cited physical abuse of workers and use of child labor. These conditions occur, the newspaper reported, in spite of the government’s zero-tolerance policy against using law-breaking factories.

The International Labor Rights Forum, an advocacy group, said in a blog post that the government, among other changes, should require bidders to disclose the names and addresses of all subcontractor factories before a contract award. The ILRF also said the government should make sure that U.S. suppliers follow the law, as most federally purchased clothing is manufactured domestically.