The US Olympic Committee’s (USOC) decision to allow Ralph Lauren to outsource the production of the US team’s opening ceremony uniforms to China has ignited outrage. Human rights activists and Republican and Democrat politicians have slammed the decision, while others view the outcry as an overreaction, hiding ulterior motives.
Amidst a struggling US economy and high unemployment, the revelation the blue blazers, white pants and berets were made in China has been met with demands for uniforms to be manufactured domestically.
Senator Bernie Sanders said : “when millions of Americans are unemployed, there is no reason why US Olympic uniforms are not being manufactured in the US.”
Representative Steve Israel echoed this sentiment: “there are 600 000 vacant manufacturing jobs in this country and the Olympic committee is outsourcing the manufacturing of uniforms to China? That is not just outrageous, it’s just plain dumb.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was even more perturbed: “I am so upset. I think the Olympic committee should be ashamed of themselves. I think they should be embarrassed. I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again.”
However US athletes appear more nonchalant. Olympic beach volleyball player Todd Rogers stated there were much bigger issues to worry about than where Ralph Lauren has the opening ceremonies clothes made.
Similar indifference was expressed by Timothy Tsun Ting Fok, president of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee: “It’s just part of globalisation. Clothes are made in China, Vietnam, all over Asia. The limelight should be on the athletes now.”
Official Chinese news agency Xinhua said Mr Reid’s comments smacked of “narrow nationalism and ignorance,” and were “just another example of the fierce, and sometimes ridiculous, political fighting going on the Capitol Hill in the year of election, which is dominated by economic growth and job creation.”
These days top global apparel companies routinely outsource manufacturing. The American Apparel and Footwear Association said last year that 98% of apparel and 99% of footwear sold in the US was manufactured abroad. Access to lower cost manufacturing enables companies to compete more effectively at home and abroad, while US consumers benefit from lower price goods.
With the Olympic team being privately funded, locally manufactured uniforms would be significantly more expensive.
Chicago Tribune Olympic reporter Philip Hersh said: “Until the US government starts providing funds for Olympic athletes, as every other government in the world does, Congress has no truck telling the U.S. Olympic Committee where to get its uniforms or where they should be made.”
USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky initially defended the choice, saying Ralph Lauren “financially supports our team,” but has since conceded that, although it was too late for changes to be made for London, uniforms for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games opening and closing ceremonies will be manufactured in the US. Ralph Lauren also promised to “lead the conversation within our industry and our government addressing the issue of increasing manufacturing in the United States.”
However, creating a few dozen short term jobs by manufacturing several hundred Olympic uniforms in the US will have little impact on the unemployment problem. The controversy simply reflects a much larger problem, on which the energies of US Congressmen would be better focused.