GOP Senator Objects to Textile Companies Signing Bangladeshi Factory Safety Pact

A provision in the military spending bill for 2014 would require companies selling textile goods on military bases around the world to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The legally binding agreement signed by some of the world's largest garment retailers aims to prevent another disaster in Bangladesh. After 1,129 garment workers died this April when a factory in Rana Plaza collapsed, the preferential treatment for companies operating in good faith seems like a logical reward and further incentive to keeping another catastrophe like this from happening again. However, the labor standard would freeze out industry giants like Gap and Walmart — something Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., won't allow without a fight.

In a letter to leaders of the Armed Services Committee, Corker asked that the language be removed from the spending bill. From his letter:

"I would be concerned if any provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2014 contained language that would require preference for European companies over U.S. companies, especially since it is our understanding that U.S. companies have done as much or more on the ground to fix the safety and health problems in Bangladeshi garment factories."

Sen. Corker is referring to the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which was created by American and Canadian companies that chose to skirt the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which was created by mostly European brands. While there are similarities in the two pacts, the European effort is legally binding.

In a statement to HuffPost, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), one of two sponsors of the House amendment, said the purpose of the provision isn't to pit U.S. firms against European ones. He encouraged American companies to "do the right thing" and take the "higher-road approach" by signing the accord.

"Requiring the Military Exchanges to abide by the terms of the Accord, as the Marine Corps has already done, will ensure that their garment purchasing decisions will uphold our nation’s core values in both word and deed," Miller said. “Our troops defend American values every day around the world, and they deserve to know that the military-branded garments for sale at base retail stores are made by companies that are actually committed to protecting worker safety and upholding international labor rights."

Between the provision in the military spending budget and last week's announcement by H&M to fight for fair wages for Bangladeshi factory workers, it seems like the world has finally awoken to the reality of where our wears are made. Promises and pacts are one thing, however, and actual actions are another.

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Brandon Perkins
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