Should the US government track the working conditions at its apparel suppliers ?

An article in the New York Times titled “Buying Overseas Clothing, US Flouts its own advice” (December 22, 2013) describes the $1.5 billion in clothing purchased by the US government and working conditions at its suppliers. Contracts for clothing for the Marines was being made at a Bangladeshi plan that used child labor. Defense officials blocked plans to require their suppliers to follow recommendations by the labor department regarding factory conditions, claiming that costs would go up by over $500K. Should the US government be required to adhere to supplier audits that guarantee ethical sourcing ? Should the higher cost of such ethical sourcing be accepted as a necessary condition for sourcing ? Should manufacturing locations for all US government purchases be required to be made transparent ?

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4 Responses to Should the US government track the working conditions at its apparel suppliers ?

  1. Christine Rasquinha says:

    Although, the US government should adhere to the standards of ethical sourcing, the supply chain that the US currently works with will not make it easy to identify the path at which goods are coming from. Based on the New York Times article, the US is usually purchasing from contractors. These contractors are working with other individuals to procure the garments. Additionally, the supply chain could be much deeper in terms of who and how the materials are supplied to the garment developers. In looking at the chain, the US would have to oversee multiple pieces of the chain because their contractor may be focused solely on their bottom line. Even if the US says they are willing to pay for the ethical sourcing, it doesn’t mean that their contractor will pass these savings on through the entire supply chain. By forcing each part of the chain to become transparent, it may increase the pressure for each aspect of the supply chain to improve conditions in order to save face toward the public which is an important cultural element for some of these countries.

  2. Sarinah says:

    The challenge would always be in implementing laws and audits because of the many intermediate layers in the supply chain. Although getting the “best price” is an agenda, an online article from the Human Rights Watch stated that there is a growing trend for “supply chain transparency” which the workers, unions, and nongovernmental organizations themselves can address to the apparel companies as part of their “corporate accountability” to build credibility. But a challenge still remains since not all countries share the same rules and regulations outside the U.S.

  3. Eric Zheng says:

    The US government, among all of those defined as “business customers”, should bear the responsibility of making sure that their supplies are not coming from sweatshops, especially those use child labor. Due to the government nature, procurement personnel from the United States government possess high negotiation power to squeeze the profit margins of their suppliers, which may push the vendors to compensate elsewhere, maybe by using the cheapest labor possible, regardless of ethical concerns. In the meantime, this government nature gives the purchasing people necessary resources to dig into the seemingly low prices on the table and require the opposite side to provide a clear cost composition to justify such low figures. As far as I’m concerned, the US government has to take the lead in ethical purchasing in order to even be able to regulate huge players in other markets that are known for using sweatshops extensively.

  4. Xin Wen says:

    Even the costs would increase by over $500K, the US government should do the ethical sourcing. It is not only about the costs, but also about the child labor which has zero tolerance. The US government has a chance to find a standard manufacturer with low cost, because the quantity is large and the government and the manufacturer could be a long-term relationship. Of course, these kinds of purchases by the US government should be transparent. However, to achieve the ethical sourcing still has a long way to go. Maybe the government should make some regulations and form a department to deal with this issue.

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