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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                      CONTACT:  Ira Arlook
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2000                          (202) 721-0111

House Armed Services Committee Member
Criticizes US Army & Air Force Relationship
with Burmese Sweatshop  

 CITES CONFLICT WITH US ECONOMIC
SANCTIONS ON MILITARY REGIME & CALL
FOR WIDER GAO INQUIRY

Anti-Sweatshop Watchdog Discovers Major US
Retailers Importing from Burma

US Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, announced today that she will ask the Government Accounting Office (GAO) to expand its inquiry into the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s (AAFES) use of sweatshop labor. After a leading anti-sweatshop watchdog, Charles Kernaghan of the National Labor Committee for Human Rights (NLC), produced shipping records showing that AAFES imports garments from a sweatshop in Burma, McKinney cited the apparent conflict with the spirit, if not the letter, of US policy toward Burma.

“Last week, President Clinton awarded the Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award, to Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s Nobel Prize winning advocate for democracy. At that very moment, she was being held under house arrest by a brutal military regime that has earned worldwide condemnation for repression and the use of forced labor,” she said. “The US has imposed economic sanctions on Burma, in much the same way as we did in the 1980’s against the apartheid regime in South Africa. I cannot understand what the Pentagon must be thinking,” she added.

On November 30th, four leading Senate Republicans and Democrats—Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jesse Helms (R-NC), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT)--wrote to President Clinton urging him “to use the power of the Executive Office of 

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the President to ban all textile and apparel imports, at least, if not all imports from Burma.” A bipartisan group of eleven Members of Congress sent a similar letter to the President.

Two weeks ago, Kernaghan, brought to light documents showing that AAFES was purchasing blue jeans from a notorious sweatshop in Nicaragua that had been cited in a letter to Nicaragua’s Minister of Foreign Affairs by US Trade Representative, Charlene

Barshevsky. “This is the second example of AAFES’ relationship with sweatshop

operators. This time they may well be helping to support the world’s most repressive

military dictatorship that owns or controls most Burmese exporting companies,” Kernaghan said.. “President Clinton has labeled the regime a threat to US security. Now we find the Pentagon doing business with them,” he added.

On December 5th, at a press conference on Capitol Hill, McKinney and Congressman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) called on the GAO to conduct an inquiry into the Pentagon agency’s practices. Brown had traveled to Nicaragua in July where he interviewed former workers, plant managers, and government officials. He and a series of delegations including human rights and religious leaders documented brutal sweatshop conditions in the Nicaraguan factory. The Pentagon claimed that its investigators found no problems at the plant.

Burma is ruled by a military government that has remained in power despite suffering an overwhelming defeat in a 1990 election that saw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy win 82% of seats in the Burmese Parliament. Last month, the United Nations’ International Labor Organization (ILO) called on member nations to reconsider their relationships to Burma because of its continued use of forced labor. In 1997, the Clinton Administration, with bipartisan support in Congress, including Senators Mitch McConnell, Jesse Helms, Daniel Moynihan, and Patrick Leahy, imposed a ban on all new investment in Burma.

Kernaghan also produced shipping records and labels from items purchased in US stores showing that major US retailers, including Kenneth Cole, Montgomery Ward, Kohl’s Department Stores, Williams Sonoma, Fubu, Jordache, Bugle Boy, Carter’s, Dress Barn, Kasper, and others, are purchasing from sweatshops in Burma. The National Labor Committee reports that since the US imposed a ban on all new US investment in Burma, in 1997, US apparel imports were up 49% in 1998, 45% in 1999, and during the first nine months of 2000, they were up 125.62 %. Clothing imports will exceed $400 million this year, an 800% increase since 1995. NLC’s findings provided the factual basis of the  Senate and House letters.

Advocates argue that AAFES and company purchases undermine US policy that seeks to isolate the military regime economically and diplomatically in order to bring them to the negotiating table with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

Copy of AAFES/Burma (Myanmar) shipping record available on request.

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