The snowballing emphasis on home-grown products that proudly display a “Made in America” label has found a powerful supporter in U.S. Congress. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is advocating for a new bill that would limit the government’s purchase of apparel to that which is produced within the U.S.
The bill Sen. Brown is backing, the “Wear American Act,” is intended to prevent the government from making purchases from countries known for questionable practices like the use of child labor. Sen. Brown explained, “It’s not in the interest of American jobs, American taxpayers, or global human rights when our government procures goods from factories with records of blatant international labor violations. But the limited enforcement actions our government has at its disposal are undermined by a simple lack of disclosure. American taxpayers deserve to know the addresses of factories receiving contracts before they are awarded.”
Discussions about U.S. retail sales often overlook one major buyer of apparel, the military. Under the radar of most news outlets, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law, but omitted a codicil that would have required military clothing to be purchased only from retail stores that have signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.
A small group of congressional Democrats had been pushing for the inclusion of the amendment. There are two competing consortia of retailers who outsource apparel production to factories in Bangladesh that have been created to supervise desperately needed reforms and finance expensive factory improvements. The E.U. led Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (AFBSB) plans to inspect the approximately 1,000 factories that directly supply them with garments. There is also a U.S.-brokered Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety that covers another 500. The troop of Democrats have been specifically advocating for the agreement assembled by the E.U.
There is a long history of legislative limits on the military’s purchasing of apparel for its personnel. The Pentagon is legally bound to buy food, clothing and a host of other items from U.S. producers, an interdiction detailed in the 1941 statute called the Berry Amendment.
Sometimes, the Pentagon uses its buying leverage to register political statements or as an instrument of diplomacy. Last July, a ban on the purchase of garments made in Vietnam was imposed by the U.S. government on all federal agencies as a result of disclosures that the apparel may be made by forced or indentured child labor.
There is currently no univocal policy regarding the purchase of non-uniform apparel. In order to avoid stockpiling huge inventories, each of the armed services provides a stipend to soldiers to purchase their own. For example, the Army gives male soldiers $75 per year to spend on shoes, and permits them to spend that on whatever brand they please. The Air Force dispenses about $2.3 million a year on shoe allowances.