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Obama Outsources to Foreign Sweatshops

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted January 2, 2014

sweatshopThere is a moral struggle in this country about purchasing items from countries which subject their workers to deplorable conditions and wages.

Wal-Mart has been a target by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) for operating sweatshops which don’t provide safety equipment as simple as dust masks, and pay workers 30 percent below the country’s minimum wage. Despite the rash of negative publicity on this issue, Wal-Mart continues to flourish.

The fact is, the average person is not equipped with the knowledge to be outraged about labor rights violations, nor do they have the money to fight this practice by purchasing more expensive goods for the sake of principal. It’s not reality. And companies with U.S. made materials, who are under the rule of unions and oppressive taxes, cannot compete with businesses who farm out production to countries with virtually no labor laws and oppressive wages.

But something has to change, because it’s not OK for human beings to be treated simply like a vehicle for profit with no concern for health or fair wages.

I shop at Wal-Mart, and I’m sure I buy many products made by suffering people in other countries. I can’t research if the factory where a skirt was made was up to code, or if the wages paid were fair. But companies and government can, as they directly commission the work. The federal government has been highlighted in the news for asking citizens to do one thing, but doing another in this matter.

The New York Times recently slammed the federal government for it’s duplicity, after the U.S. Labor Department heralded a “zero tolerance” policy “for for using overseas plants that break local laws.” But according to the Times’ investigation, “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.”

After industrial accidents abroad, the Obama Administration has encouraged buyers to be selective when purchasing goods manufactured in other countries, hoping to send a message that labor violations have consequences. But according to the Times, the federal government rarely knows where the garments they commission are made. The ILRF published a press release in late December challenging the U.S. government to take more responsibility for the rights of laborers producing official apparel for the government.

“Over a year after 112 workers were killed in a fire at a factory that sewed Marines logo clothing, the rest of the U.S. government still has not taken action to prevent unsafe and abusive working conditions in the factories that make procured or licensed apparel, or clothing sold at military exchanges,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the ILRF. “The Tazreen fire – and the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed ten-fold more garment workers just a few months later – should be a wake-up call to the U.S .government to put into place enforceable labor standards to ensure workers’ rights and transparency in government supply chains.”

The ILRF’s press release references a fire that happened in a manufacturing facility in Bangladesh, where U.S. Marine apparel was made. The Marine’s say they were not aware their uniforms were being made in that facility, and cited a contract breach with the company they hired. The Bangladesh factory was refused a license renewal for fire safety because there was no compliance with regulations.

Even more egregious was the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, killing 1,127 people. The building was constructed on swampland, and was built with poor quality materials.

The U.S. government is the world’s largest purchaser of clothing manufactured overseas, to the tune of $1.5 billion each year. It’s obvious the government should take its own advice and know where clothing they commission is being constructed, and make decisions accordingly.

Think if the government infused the $1.5 billion each year into the U.S. economy, instead of overseas. Lowering corporate taxes, auditing outlandish environmental regulations, and implementing right-to-work laws on a national level would allow U.S. businesses to employ Americans and create revenue. Let’s stop punishing and demonizing corporations, and start working with them to bring jobs home, where we know our tax dollars will be used to make merchandise in a safe place with fair wages.