U.S. exchanges that sell military-licensed clothing to service members and their families are being denounced for sourcing private-label apparel from potentially unsafe factories in Bangladesh, following the release of a new report. An investigative document provided by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and sent to ABC News reveals the exchanges are sourcing military-logoed apparel “without taking any independent action to investigate or remedy safety hazards and illegal conditions.” The exchanges operate more than 1,100 stores on military bases across the U.S.
“They don’t vet the supply system,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller, in an interview with ABC News. “They rely on the brands. It’s a sham system. Even where that system points out serious problems, there is no evidence that the exchange takes serious action.”
Already, several lawmakers, including Miller, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) have introduced an amendment requiring the exchanges to give preferential treatment to suppliers that sign a legally-binding accord on Bangladesh factory safety. “The U.S. government has an obligation to make sure that workers are not endangered and abused,” Miller said.
Specifically, the ILRF report shows the exchanges either rely on Bangladeshi factory inspections conducted by other large retailers, or facility self-reporting. ILRF found examples of military-logo clothing being made in a factory with a “D” grade for safety, in a factory where one wall had a five-story-long rupture, in a factory with missing fire extinguishers and in another with locked bars over the doors and windows.
In the report, exchange officials defended their actions, arguing the reliance on audits performed by retailers was sufficient to vet the conditions in garment factories overseas. They also said they have canceled contracts with factories that were subpar. “We rely on an auditor’s report to determine if the factory has taken improvement actions and evaluate the follow-up report,” said Gregg Cox, who oversees the Washington office of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.
Björn Skorpen Claeson, the ILRF official who served as principle author of the report, said his organization did not consider that sufficient. “As large buyers, agents of the U.S. government, and emissaries of American values, the U.S. military exchanges have an obligation and an opportunity to define a new standard for social responsibility in their supply chains,” he wrote.
About a year ago, ABC News reported that activists in Bangladesh found order forms and design specs for sweatshirts and tank tops emblazoned with the U.S. Marine Corps insignia and logos inside the smoldering wreckage of the Tazreen Fashions factory where more than 112 workers died in a fire. The owner of that factory is now facing culpable homicide charges.