By Bob Davis
May 4, 2015 10:40 p.m. ET
SPARTANBURG, S.C.—Milliken & Co., one of the largest U.S. textile makers, has been on the front lines of nearly every recent battle to defeat free-trade legislation. It has financed activists, backed like-minded lawmakers and helped build a coalition of right and left-wing opponents of free trade.
With Congress now gearing up for another trade fight, this time over whether to give President Barack Obama authority to negotiate sweeping trade deals in Asia and Europe, Milliken is in an unfamiliar place. Its executives are urging lawmakers to support the free-trade measure.
The about-face by the family-owned company followed the 2010 death of Roger Millken, its chairman and former chief executive, at age 95. Mr. Milliken, who set the strategy for nearly everything at the company, had railed for years against what he considered China’s pernicious trade practices.