Today, popular apparel companies bring in billions of dollars each year in revenue from retail sales. It may be shocking to hear some of the most popular brands, and even some not so popular, have very unethical practices going on in their factories overseas. These underhanded practices are just coming to the surface with the help of whistle-blowers and government investigation. Factory workers are suffering under unhealthy conditions in an effort for companies to keep up with competition who have lowered prices and reverted to similar practices.
A few years ago, Lululemon, an active wear company, started a suit against Calvin Klein. Lululemon filed the suit stating Calvin Klein had stolen their Astro yoga pants signature waistband design. But after this case, the active wear company was far from being free of legal trouble. This year they were sued by the government for failing to reveal defects in other yoga pants that became see-through after use. They were found guilty of securities fraud by overstating the quality control and hiding deep discounts to boost their market share. Design copying and poor quality control are a common underhanded practice being done by large fashion corporations, and it has been difficult to fight against in the past. This brand alone has shown that cheap practices are being found out more and more and the legal action against them will hopefully help companies create better quality products in future.
Forever 21 is a chain store for cheap women’s apparel, popular with the teenage to young twenties age group. With factories once based in California, Forever 21 have been accused of running their factory in a sweatshop style. Most Forever 21 employees were high school age girls, unaware of their rights as an employee. American employees sued the company for failure to pay employees for all hours worked and denying breaks for meals. After the lawsuit, Forever 21 moved their factories to Asia where they have continued to attract labor complaints. They remain one of the few retailers buying cotton from Uzbekistan factories where alleged forced child labor takes place.
This company has also been sued over 50 times for copyright infringement, where they were accused of stealing apparel designs. In a NY Times report, the vice president of merchandising revealed the company does not have designers on staff. These revelations instill the belief that stealing designs is just a part of the way Forever 21 does business.
The corporation tries to stay competitive by dealing in these underhanded practices, but time will tell if consumers will pay attention. Educated buyers are what will really help to slow the profits that come at the cost of workers overseas.
The Children’s Place
The Rana Plaza Factory, a Children’s Place factory in Bangladesh, collapsed on workers back in April. The survivors and the relatives of the deceased are suing the retailers, JC Penny, Walmart, and the Bangladesh government for negligence which heightened the risk for collapse. The building was inhabitable, yet workers were forced to work long hours in the building regardless of only being allowed to have two days off a month.
This was a case of retailers trying to save money overseas at the cost of human lives. Conditions in these factories and treatment of workers have long been overlooked as corporations try to keep up with cheaper clothing and brands who deal in similar practices.
When you think about factories you might have images of robots, high tech SIAT S.p.A. case sealers, or assembly lines come to mind. But the truth is, workers and real human people often keep corporations alive. The fashion industry has been operating under some unethical, underhanded practices and it’s beginning to get them in a lot of trouble. Forcing a worker to work 13-14 hours a day without meal breaks, not paying them for overtime, and copyright infringement is just the tip of the iceberg. Employees, governments, and competitors are working hard to put a stop to these unfair practices, but ultimately it’s up to buyers to get educated about where their clothing comes from and to buy smart.