Last week, U.S. Representative Michael Michaud sent a letter to President Barack Obama and sponsored legislation to end the U.S. military’s use of sweatshop shoes.
As Michaud explained in his letter, the Department of Defense has recently begun sneaking around the rule that its sneakers must be made in the USA by shuffling money to members of the military for them to purchase required sneakers on their own:
The Berry Amendment stipulates that DOD cannot procure food or clothing, among other items, unless the item is grown or produced in the U.S. Congress first established this domestic preference for DOD procurement in 1941, and for decades the military branches complied by issuing American-made uniforms, including athletic footwear, for our troops. In recent years, however, DOD has circumvented this policy by issuing cash allowances to soldiers for their own purchase of training shoes. In response to questions raised by my colleagues in Congress and me, DOD claimed that items bought with a soldier’s cash allowance did not constitute procurement and, therefore, were not subject to Berry Amendment standards.
DOD’s ability to avoid Berry Amendment requirements simply by issuing a cash allowance for certain uniform items is troubling, and their sudden decision not to issue American-made athletic footwear is disconcerting. Servicemen and women have dress uniforms, combat uniforms, and physical training (PT) uniforms. The apparel and footwear for each of these uniforms is American-made, except for soldiers’ PT footwear. According to DOD’s own Acquisition Regulations System (DFARS), the Berry Amendment definition of clothing includes footwear and should therefore apply to all shoes, including athletic footwear, required for servicemen and women. If military branches have decided to issue cash allowances in lieu of procuring PT footwear, they could easily do the same for other parts of our troops’ uniforms.
H.R. 2955 reinforces the decades-long understanding that footwear is clothing and the decades-long practice that the U.S. military must avoid shoes made in polluting, exploitative sweatshops and instead purchase shoes that are made with worker and environmental protections in the USA. As of this week, Rep. Michaud is the legislation’s only sponsor.