So yes, the USA Olympic uniforms were made in China. As it turns out, the uniforms for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics were made in Burma and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee thought that Burma and Myanmar were different countries.
Now we know why Mitt Romney has been a bit more than reticent about the matter and has not seized on the issue as part of his call to “get tough on China.” Says Sabrina Siddiqui on the Huffington Post:
According to reports in 2002, the decision to outsource the torchbearer uniforms to Burma caused an uproar among human rights advocates and trade groups. It prompted the head of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions to write a letter to the International Olympic Committee, stating that “No responsible organization or body should make use of products originating in Burma.”
The American Anti-Slavery Group and the Free Burma Coalition launched a campaign to protest the uniforms and called on the IOC to apologize and “promise to never support — indirectly or directly — the Burmese regime.”
Siddiqui cites a Guardian interview with 2002 torchbearer, 57-year-old Susan Bonfield of Washington DC, who said that she “went nuts” on seeing the labels; she commented that “When you are sending work representing the U.S. to a military dictatorship, I have an issue with that.” More than 10,000 runners wore the made-in-Burma uniforms.
In 2002, Burma was an isolationist state run by a military junta t hhatad jailed thousands who expressed dissenting views and kept Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi detained for over fifteen years. Released from house arrest in 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi only recently finished a two-week tour of Europe on which she sought support for a democratic transition in Myanmar.
Responding to the criticism about the 2002 uniforms, the Commmittee said in an email that:
“The torch relay clothes were NOT made in Burma. They were manufactured in Myanmar. In fact they were made in the exact same factory that produces clothes for GAP, North Face and other major clothing labels.”
In some ways, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee realizing that Burma and Myanmur are the same country is even more troubling. (I’m reminded of a previous vice-presidential candidate confusing South Korea and North Korea.) In addition, both the GAP and the North Face said at the time that they do not buy products manufactured in Burma.
As Maggie Habermann writes on Politico, the Olympics-uniforms-made-in-Burma issue will likely follow him over the Atlantic on his upcoming trip to London, keeping the Bain-outsourcing-when-did-Romney-leave controversy very much in the background.
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Photo of Romney at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics by Uncleweed