The furor that has erupted over a New York Times investigative article documenting widespread safety violations in overseas factories that are manufacturing apparel and equipment for U.S. military and other federal employees is, in fact, only one facet of a broad spectrum of problems related to the procurement of products subsidized by U.S. taxpayer dollars.
The larger issue involves the purchasing of products by U.S. state and city governments for their public employees.
Like the sweatshops that have been contracted by corporations that supply products to the federal government, many of the factories that produce apparel and equipment to state and city governments reflect a similar pattern of violations including the use of child labor, fatally unsafe working environments, wages that are illegal even under the standards that exist within the countries themselves, discrimination, managers who are both verbally and physically abusive, and a plethora of other labor violations.
These conditions are described in a series of well-documented reports titled “Subsidizing Sweatshops” issued by the International Labor Rights Forum and Sweatfree Communities.
Tightening the regulations and loopholes in federal procurement contracts will signify a major improvement in the current situation. But unless comparable regulations are enacted at the state and city government level, America’s image in the world will continue to be tarnished by humanitarian tragedies that have been indirectly financed by the American public.
With the recent trend to bring more jobs back to America, the most appropriate solution to the current situation would be to enact legislation requiring that all apparel made for military and other government and public officials and subsidized by taxpayer dollars be made within the United States, where working conditions must comply with safety regulations and workplaces can be inspected to ensure that there are no violations.
This would not only reduce the likelihood that tragedies associated with U.S. taxpayer dollars would occur in the future, but it would also provide a boost in employment that would benefit the growth of our economy here.Kathleen Agena has served with several U.N. agencies and was on the Policy Sciences Center team to the Balkans in the 1990s. She wrote this for Hearst Newspapers.