Bush election site sells Burma goods

Mistake: A supplier is blamed for a Burma-made pullover sold by the Bush-Cheney official merchandise Web site.

March 20, 2004|By Lauren Weber | Lauren Weber,NEWSDAY

The official merchandise Web site for President Bush's re-election campaign has sold clothing made in Burma, whose goods were banned by him from the United States last year to punish its military dictatorship.

The merchandise sold on the Web site georgebushstore.com includes a $49.95 fleece pullover, embroidered with the Bush-Cheney '04 logo and bearing a label stating it was made in Burma, now Myanmar. The jacket was sent to Newsday as part of an order that included a shirt made in Mexico and a hat not bearing a country-of-origin label.

The Spalding Group, a 20-year-old supplier of campaign products and services in Louisville, Ky., is handling the Bush merchandise. The company says it worked for the last five Republican presidential nominees.

Ted Jackson, Spalding's president, said, "We have found only one other in our inventory that was made in Burma. The others were made in the USA." He said the company had about 60 of the fleece pullovers in its warehouse, and that a supplier included the Burma product by mistake.

The imports are potentially an issue because outsourcing has become a hot political topic in the election. Yesterday, the Bush campaign said imported merchandise was not supposed to be sold.

"The merchandiser has admitted a mistake and accepted responsibility," campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said. "The Bush-Cheney campaign is committed to making sure that only made-in-the-USA products are sold on the Web site."

Bush signed into law the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act in July, saying: "The United States will not waver from its commitment to the cause of democracy and human rights in Burma."

Violators of the import ban are subject to fines and jail, according to the Treasury Department.

Burmese textile workers earn as little as 7 cents per hour, according to the National Labor Committee, a human rights group.

Spalding, which works exclusively with Republican candidates at both local and national levels, tries to order American-made products, Jackson said. "Our first effort is always to source things from the U.S., but not a lot of garments are made in the U.S. today," he said. He said all embroidery is done in the United States.

Colorado Trading & Clothing of Denver imported the Bush-Cheney fleece pullovers. Jeff Schmitt, Colorado Trading's president, said the pullovers were included in one of the last shipments brought in from Burma last year before Sept. 1, when the import ban went into effect.

Schmitt said Colorado Trading employs an agent in Asia who conducts checks of factory conditions.

Human-rights watcher Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee, said the slip-up showed a lack of conviction on the administration's part. "Given the debate about outsourcing, it's amazing that the campaign would be selling stuff made in the most brutal country on earth, known for things like child labor and sexual slavery," he said. "It shows a crude indifference to this issue."

The National Basketball Association recently vowed to stop selling Burmese-made sweat shirts after a campaign by the National Labor Committee.

Last week, a hat, T-shirt and fleece pullover or jacket were ordered from both the Bush and Kerry campaign stores. The Bush merchandise - which totaled $81.85 - arrived this week. The Kerry products, worth $62, have yet to arrive because the fleece jacket was on back order, according to Financial Innovations, the company that licenses and sells Kerry merchandise on the Web site www.kerrygear.com.

The campaigns receive no profits from the merchandise because of federal election regulations.

The Kerry merchandise was made in the United States, according to Mark Weiner, the president of Financial Innovations. The company, whose employees belong to the Communications Workers of America, obtains most of its merchandise from unionized factories.

"It's becoming more difficult to find American-made union product, especially in textiles, but you just have to look. We pay more money for them, so we make a smaller profit margin," said Paul McConnell, Financial Innovations' vice president.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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