Activists in Bangladesh have told ABC News that they found order forms and design specs for sweatshirts and tank tops emblazoned with U.S. Marine Corps insignia and logos inside the smoldering wreckage of the Tazreen Fashions factory where more than 112 workers died in a fire last week.
Worker rights groups in the U.S. expressed outrage that an overseas factory with clearly identified safety problems would be selected to manufacture clothing for a licensee of the United States Marines.
"The fact that Marines logo clothing was found in the rubble of the sweatshop fire should serve as a wake-up call to the U.S. Government to put into place safeguards to ensure decent working conditions in government supply chains and among licensees," said Liana Foxvog of the International Labor Rights Forum.
As with Wal-Mart, Disney, Sears, and other well-known American clothing brands whose clothing was found on the Tazreen factory floor immediately after the blaze, both the U.S. Marine Corps and the North Carolina-based company that was making items under a licensing agreement with the Marines said they did not know about or approve of any arrangement to make garments there.
"We never purposefully produced garments there. Ever," said Bob Humphreys, chairman and CEO of Delta Apparel, which is the parent company of the brand Soffe.
Humphreys said his company is "turning things upside down" to figure out why order sheets found at Tazreen identified Soffe as the company that placed the request for the Marine Corps products. He said in 2011 his company had placed an order with Tazreen's parent company, Tuba Limited. When Soffe received a shipment of 11,000 garments from Tazreen at that time, Soffe officials complained to Tuba.
"We told them no other garments could be made in that facility, it was not authorized," Humphreys said.
The Marine Corps was equally perplexed, especially because its licensing agreement with Soffe specifically spelled out that its products were supposed to have any Marine Corps logos affixed at the Soffe plants in North Carolina, and had not provided any approval to manufacture anything at Tazreen.
"Tazreen Fashions factory is not an authorized manufacturer of MJ Soffe licensed Marine Corps branded merchandise," said Jessica O'Haver, director of the Marine Corps Trademark Licensing Office.
Advocates with the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity discovered the order book in the burned out Tazreen building and photographed it. The photos include order sheets dated July 2012, designs for hooded sweatshirts that say "Semper Fi" or "U.S. Marines," matching sweat pants, and a tank top that says "The Few. The Proud."
Humphreys reviewed the photos at the request of ABC News and said that the order forms and specs appeared to be "based on" his company's documents. He speculated that Tuba, which had an order from Soffe, had moved production to Tazreen without telling his company.
Humphreys said none of the items being made in Bangladesh were part of the company's contract with the Department of Defense – those items are required by law to be made in the United States. Soffe also has licensing agreements with several branches of the military to make T-shirts, sweatshirts, and other items carrying military logos, which are sold commercially and on military bases around the world. Humphreys said most of those items are made in the U.S. or in Latin America.