If USAID Taps Asian Condom Manufacturers for International Supply, Alabama Condom Workers Could Lose Jobs
If USAID approves contract bids from Asian manufacturers to supply up to 550 million condoms it seeks to distribute in developing countries next year, workers at LMR International in Eufaula, Ala., could lose their jobs, the Boston Globe reports. LMR, which has supplied 250 million condoms to USAID this year, is at the "epicenter of a thorny debate" over possibly saving more lives by increasing the number of condoms being sent to developing nations to prevent HIV transmission versus "preserving" American jobs. Although USAID has used LMR as its primary supplier in the past, the agency is contemplating using condoms from Asian manufacturers that may charge only 2.5 cents per condom versus the 6.3 cents per condom LMR charges. Paul DeLay, head of USAID's HIV/AIDS Division, said that if American bids from LMR and its competitor, Slocomb, Ala.-based Alatech Health Care Products, come in at 10 cents per condom, "which is what we're hearing, that will affect our ability to provide them where we need them."
Making A Case
Lillie Thomas, vice president of operations at LMR, said that Asian companies can offer the lower prices because they pay their workers lower wages -- 12 to 28 cents per hour compared to LMR's base rate of $6.50 an hour. Federal quality regulations also tack on about one cent per condom, she added. The USAID contract should go to LMR or Alatech because of congressional "Buy America" provisions that mandate that federal money spent on products destined to be used abroad must be spent on American-made products, she said. In addition, American-made condoms are "better," she said, adding that LMR condoms are "stretched, manipulated, pushed to the limit, to make sure that we know about any weakness." LMR's factory will shut down if it does not receive the contract, putting 282 people out of work in an area that has an unemployment rate of 7.2%. SSL International, the factory's prior owner, sold the factory because it feared the loss of the USAID contract.
Putting Lives Over Jobs
Public health advocates say that procuring the "most condoms for the money," not preserving American jobs, should be USAID's "priority." They point out that U.S.-made condoms cost "more than double" what Asian-made condoms do and argue that there is "little difference" in quality between the two. William Schellstede, senior vice president of Family Health International, a family planning advocacy group, said that the "logic of buying more condoms for the same amount of money is awfully persuasive." However, USAID officials said they are "keeping all options open" until the bids come in (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 8/13).