An amendment filed by two House Democrats to a defense authorization bill would require that garments made in Bangladesh and sold at base retail stores owned by the Department of Defense, known as exchanges, comply with an enforceable fire and building safety accord that will improve conditions in Bangladesh ready-made garment factories.
A number of garments and documents with Marine insignias were found in the rubble of the November 2012 Bangladesh Tazreen Fashions fire that killed 112 workers and reported by ABC News. Survivors have stated that the building's exits were locked, forcing many to jump from the 3rd or 4th floor windows. Public data indicates that the Army-Air Force Exchange imported 124,000 pounds of garments last year from several garment factories in Bangladesh.
"It is not only unjust but inhumane that garment workers barely make ends meet and are subjected to working in unsafe buildings, many of which don't have fire escapes or potable water. As a huge purchaser of garments, the U.S. military should not be complicit in putting the lives of Bangladesh's workers in grave danger," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). "Even the clothing sold to our servicemen and women, some bearing the proud word Marines, should reflect the values they are bravely protecting. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this amendment, which would make a difference in the lives of garment workers and improve conditions in Bangladesh's garment factories."
"Workers that manufacture clothing embossed with our nation's military slogans and insignias shouldn't have to face blocked fire exits and threats of being fired for refusing to work in unsafe conditions," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). "Likewise, clothing licensed and sold in military exchanges owned by the Department of Defense are made in conditions that uphold our nation's core values and internationally recognized labor standards."
Garment worker safety in Bangladesh came to international attention after the April collapse of the Rana Plaza complex, which housed several garment factories. More than 1,100 workers died and more than 2,500 were injured making it one of the deadliest industrial tragedies in history. So far, 50 international retail and fashion brands -- mostly based in Europe and Canada -- have signed onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Major U.S. companies like Wal-Mart and GAP have declined to participate in the international effort to improve building safety.
Specifically, the amendment says:
Military exchanges that sell their own branded garments which are made in Bangladesh must join or abide by the conditions of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh; and
Military exchanges that license production of their own brands or sell at retail other branded garments shall provide a preference in selection of vendors to those which are signatories to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.