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December 23rd, 2013
The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Buying Overseas Clothing, U.S. Flouts Its Own Advice,” describes the federal government spending more than $1.5 billion a year in purchasing garments, many of them produced under sweatshop conditions.
The government procurement process is focused mainly on getting the lowest price and is ignoring the conditions under which the products are produced. It deals mainly with contractors and is thus unaware of the factories used to fulfill the orders.
Moreover, the establishment of free trade zones exerts additional downward pressure on prices and forces the manufacturers into a more competitive situation. As a result, workers are forced to produce more in less time, often with bathroom breaks limited and fire door exits locked. Child labor is common, and basic safety regulations such as masks are often ignored.
The U.S. government is thus culpable of failing to follow its own policies designed to protect worker rights. Often the big box stores on its military bases, pledged to provide the lowest price possible, must compete with Target, Walmart and similar outlets. As a result, they are also buying from illegitimate sources from Haiti, Bangla Desh and similar nations known to abuse their workers.
This topic may not excite American audiences, but the cost in broken human lives makes it worthy of lead-story coverage in The New York Times.
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