The US House of Representatives today took an important step to make sure military exchange stores that buy apparel made in Bangladesh do their part to ensure safe and decent working conditions for garment workers.
The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, offered by Rep. Schakowsky of Illinois and Rep. Miller of California, requires the exchange store system to become a signatory to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh or comply with the requirements of the Accord. It also requires military exchanges to provide a purchasing preference to licensees and other apparel brands that are signatories to the Accord.
The Accord is an historic agreement between apparel brands and retailers and international and Bangladeshi unions under which the companies make a binding commitment to ensure garment workers’ safety. The Accord requires signatory companies to help finance renovations to make factories safe, and establishes a vital role for workers and their unions in the implementation and review of safety programs. So far, fifty apparel companies from a dozen countries have signed the Accord, among which are five US companies: Abercrombie & Fitch, PVH, Scoop NYC, Sean John, and Zac Posen.
“Garment workers in Bangladesh will be happy that the US House of Representatives supports enforceable safety standards in their factories,” said Kalpona Akter, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. “As I said in my testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, the U.S. Government has an important role to play in assuring safe and dignified working conditions for garment workers in global supply chains. This endorsement of the Bangladesh Safety Accord is a key step in the right direction toward improving working conditions in my country.”
The US military exchanges purchase approximately $1.5 billion of clothing annually, including clothing from major retail brands and their own private label lines. Bangladesh is one of the most important producer countries for the Army and Air Force Exchange’s private label apparel, which imported 124,000 pounds of garments last year from several factories in Bangladesh.
“The US House of Representatives has now said that what we buy and sell to military personnel and families, in the name of the US Government, must be made in accordance with American values of justice, fairness, and dignity,” said Judy Gearhart, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum. “This amendment will bring US military exchange stores’ corporate accountability program up to par with best industry practices. I look forward to seeing the provision passed in the Senate and signed into law.”