The United States Marine Corps is acting to terminate its agreement with a North Carolina clothing manufacturer that was believed to be making clothing with American military logos and slogans in a Bangladesh factory where a fire killed more than 112 workers, officials said.
Activists in Bangladesh told ABC News that inside the smoldering wreckage of the Tazreen Fashions factory they found order forms and design specs from the brand, Soffe, for sweatshirts and tank tops emblazoned with U.S. Marine Corps insignia and logos. Marine Corps officials said they had been told the items were being made in America.
"Under the License, the Marine Corps may terminate the License if Soffe is found to be in breach of certain provisions," said Jessica O'Haver, who oversees the military branch's licensing program. "The Marine Corps has reason to believe that Soffe has in fact breached the license, and has informed Soffe of its intention to terminate the License."
The move by the Marines is the latest in a series of developments in the aftermath of the deadly blaze, as a number of major American brands have tried to explain how their clothing lines wound up in a factory that had been hit with repeated warnings for serious safety violations.
A Reuters report filed from Dhaka Tuesday said that at the time of the fire, the factory was operating without a safety license and had been warned twice to improve conditions there. The report quoted the country's director general of the Fire Service and Civil Defense as saying that he had "refused to renew the license because there was a lack of fire safety measures … fire safety provisions had not been put in place."
Officials with the company that owns the Tazreen factory, Tuba Group, have repeatedly declined to comment on the blaze, but the largest company whose clothing was found in the factory, Wal-Mart, has acknowledged it is investigating to determine how the safety warnings came to be ignored by its suppliers.
More documents found in the factory indicate that two Wal-Mart suppliers were using the factory around the time of the fire, the New York Times reported Tuesday. Kevin Gardner, a Wal-Mart spokesman, told the Times, "If we determine that other suppliers were using a deactivated factory to produce merchandise for Wal-Mart, that's a violation of our supplier standards. If that is the case, it is unacceptable and we will take appropriate action."
An executive at the parent company of Soffe, the label making garments with U.S. Marine Corps logos, told ABC News last week that his company also did not know how design specs for his firm's items wound up in the Tazreen factory. He provided ABC News with shipping records showing the company last received a shipment from Tazreen in 2011, and said they had requested that factory no longer be used.
"We never purposefully produced garments there. Ever," said Bob Humphreys, chairman and CEO of Delta Apparel, Soffe's parent company.
A spokesman for Delta Apparel said Wednesday that Tuba Group told Delta Apparel that the documents were stored at Tazreen "in connection with the Tuba Group's general marketing efforts there."
"We never authorized any production, United States military or otherwise, at Tazreen," said the spokesman, "[and] we have no current relationship with the Tuba Group." He said Delta had ended its relationship with Tuba earlier this year.
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 initially speculated that Tuba, which had an order from Soffe, had moved production to Tazreen without telling his company.
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.
The Marine Corps has expressed serious concerns about the production process, and said they never allowed Soffe to make military licensed clothes in Tazreen.
"The Marine Corps has established specific guidelines for its licensees and their manufacturers around the world," O'Haver said in a statement emailed to ABC News. That includes "prohibitions against forced labor, child labor, health and safety, harassment or abuse, wages and benefits, working environment, and other issues. Neither Tazreen Fashions nor their parent company Tuba Garments, LTD are authorized manufacturers of Soffe licensed Marine Corps branded merchandise."
O'Haver said the Marine Corps "has offered Soffe a period of time to provide information" before it formally terminates its agreement with the company.