Forced Labor: Actions Needed to Better Prevent the Availability of At-Risk Goods in DOD's Commissaries and Exchanges

GAO-22-105056 Published: Feb 03, 2022. Publicly Released: Feb 03, 2022.
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Fast Facts

Globally, millions of people work under threat or coercion. DOD has policies to prevent the sale of goods produced by forced labor at the nearly 3,000 military commissaries and exchanges it operates worldwide.

But the commissaries and exchanges implement DOD's policies differently. DOD needs a consistent approach to reasonably assure goods produced by forced labor aren't being sold.

Further, DOD doesn't monitor compliance with its forced-labor policies for goods. Commissaries and exchanges also don't use available information from other federal agencies to identify potentially problematic goods.

Our recommendations address these issues.

Aerial view of the Pentagon

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has some policies and processes in place to prevent the resale of goods produced through forced labor in its commissaries and exchanges. However, despite their generally common business of providing reduced-priced groceries and retail goods to their patrons, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) and the military service exchanges have varying policies and inconsistent processes. These inconsistencies result in a fragmented approach to forced labor at DOD's resale organizations. For example, while DeCA is subject to procurement regulations that cover all categories of goods, guidance governing the exchanges focuses only on certain resale goods such as those directly imported from overseas. Establishing an overarching policy and consistent processes would help DOD have reasonable assurance that goods produced by forced labor are not available for purchase within the commissaries and exchanges.

DOD Commissary

DOD Commissary

GAO found that the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has not monitored DeCA's and the exchanges' compliance with policies for preventing the resale of goods produced with forced labor. In addition, the military exchanges have not consistently implemented all requirements related to resale goods that may have been produced by forced labor. For example, GAO found that the exchanges have not consistently followed the requirement to have periodic assessments of their programs related to forced labor prevention. Without a mechanism to monitor efforts by DeCA and the exchanges to prevent the resale of goods produced by forced labor, OSD lacks reasonable assurance that the resale organizations are not purchasing and reselling these goods.

Despite having access to other federal agencies' information on the risks of forced labor in the production of resale goods, officials from DeCA and the exchanges have not used such information. Federal agencies, to include the Department of Labor, publish information about the potential use of forced labor in the production of goods. This information includes lists of goods and countries with increased risks of forced labor. By drawing upon available information from other federal agencies, DeCA and the exchanges would be better positioned to identify, assess, and respond to risks of forced labor.

Why GAO Did This Study

The U.S. government and others have raised concerns about the use of forced labor in the production of goods. DOD operates almost 3,000 commissaries and exchanges worldwide to enhance the quality of life of service members, their families, and retirees by providing reduced-priced groceries and retail goods.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's efforts to prevent the resale of goods produced by forced labor in commissaries and exchanges. This report evaluates the extent to which (1) DeCA and the military service exchanges have established policies and processes for preventing the resale of goods produced by forced labor, (2) OSD monitors DeCA's and the exchanges' compliance with their policies and processes, and (3) opportunities exist for DeCA and the exchanges to use information from other federal agencies to inform their efforts.

GAO analyzed DOD policies and processes related to the resale of goods that may be produced by forced labor and interviewed DOD and other federal agency officials.

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Recommendations

GAO is making four recommendations, including that DOD establish an overarching policy and consistent processes to better prevent the availability of goods produced by forced labor, establish an oversight mechanism to monitor implementation, and use available federal information to identify risks. DOD concurred with these recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the military departments, DeCA, and military exchanges, establishes an overarching policy and consistent processes to provide reasonable assurance that the goods sold in the commissaries and exchanges are not produced by forced labor. This policy should, at a minimum, for each type of resale good (including branded goods) prescribe (1) consistent minimum requirements for that type of good and (2) the supplier information that is to be collected for that type. (Recommendation 1)
Open
The Department of Defense concurred with this recommendation. When the agency takes action, we will update the status accordingly.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary for Defense for Personnel and Readiness establishes an oversight mechanism to assess DeCA's and the military exchanges' compliance with policies and processes designed to prevent the resale of goods produced by forced labor in DOD's commissaries and exchanges. (Recommendation 2)
Open
The Department of Defense concurred with this recommendation. When the agency takes action, we will update the status accordingly.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the military departments, establishes a requirement that DeCA and the exchanges use information available from other federal agencies to identify, assess, and respond to risks of forced labor in the production of all types of resale goods. (Recommendation 3)
Open
The Department of Defense concurred with this recommendation. When the agency takes action, we will update the status accordingly.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should clarify which OSD office or offices have the responsibility to communicate other federal agencies' information on potentially at-risk goods to DOD's commissaries and exchanges. (Recommendation 4)
Open
The Department of Defense concurred with this recommendation. When the agency takes action, we will update the status accordingly.

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