Abercrombie and Fitch Child Labor
by Sam Biastre
Abercrombie and Fitch was founded in 1892 by David T. Abercrombie. At first the company distributed sporting and excursion goods. The company then struggled financially from low sales well into the 1960’s until it was purchased by The Limited in 1988. Under the management of Mike Jeffries the company transformed itself into the “Casual Luxury” lifestyle brand that it is today. Abercrombie and Fitch has been raising eyebrows for years with their racy ads and barely there clothing. Another problem the company has also been facing is the fact that they have child labor in the factories that produce their clothes.
Child slave labor is a very serious problem that is occurring in the world at the present time. Abercrombie and Fitch clothing is made by children slaves who get paid very little or not at all. Unlike many other clothing companies Abercrombie and Fitch doesn’t make their vendor code of conduct accessible to the public. A vendor code of conduct requires that all the vendors abide by a code of ethics and performance even if the code isn’t part of a written contract. The company also provides little information on its compliance with international labor standards.
One place Abercrombie and Fitch clothing is made is at Alta Mode factory in the Philippines. When all one hundred plus workers sought to form a union, they were all placed on leave. The Abercrombie supplier even filed criminal charges against the factory workers. “Furthermore, Abercrombie & Fitch is currently on the 2010 Sweatshop Hall of Shame at laborrights.org. One of the biggest reasons is glaringly obvious. All of the Abercrombie clothing is made by child laborers slaving away in unsettling conditions. They have no benefits or access to health care, and these products are being marketed and sold to a demographic that has little to no concern for the poor or less fortunate.”
The children employed by Abercrombie and Fitch work long hours, in dangerous working conditions and earn below minimum wage. The workers at Alta Mode began organizing a union in early 2008 as the Alta Mode Workers Union (AMWU) with support for the Labor Party-Philippines. Two days before the elections, a meeting of Alta Mode workers under the guise of an assembly of cooperative members working for the factory was called. The agenda of the meeting was not to discuss cooperative matters but rather the certification of the elections. On September 7, 2009 when the elections took place all the union members, officers and other non-union workers were put on leave. This goes against the right for workers to form a union. “Article 248 (e) of the Labor Code states that it is unfair labor practice to discriminate in regard to wages, hours of work, and other terms and conditions of employment in order to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization.”
The supervisors and managers were free to make a last- minute campaign among the workers since there were no union members in the factory. The AMWU won with 107 votes and people voting against the union got 88 votes. The election remained unresolved since 27 ballots were challenged by the union. These ballots were cast by supervisory employees, line leaders and contractual workers who AMWU said were not part of the bargaining deal. Hours after the election employees held a sit-down protest inside the factory. After 24 hours the factory owners allowed the workers to have work rotation instead of forced leave, and offered financial assistance to those who were temporally laid-off. This is what all of the workers wanted. Two days after that the factory owners rescinded what they had promised the workers and shut down production for six months.
While all of this was going on officials discovered a truck within the factory premises that was filled with materials. This was suspected to be an attempt at a runaway shop. Since Alta Mode has “sister garment companies” located close to the one in the Philippines the officials thought the temporary shut down of the factory was an attempt to shift work to the different companies.
In June of 2010 Abercrombie and Fitch was asked by the International labor Organization to consider child and human rights issues along with other matters. This request called for Abercrombie and Fitch to adopt and disclose a code of vendor conduct. The code of vendor conduct would be based on International Labor Organization standards. Abercrombie and Fitch would have to establish an independent monitoring process that would adhere to the standards from the International Labor Organization and the company would have to prepare an annual report on adherence to the supplier code. The companies’ board of directors had recommended that shareholders vote against this code, saying that they already had a code of conduct for its vendors for nearly a decade. “Basically, we’re doing everything they ask — with one exception: We don’t publish a report,” said David S. Cupps, senior vice president and general counsel and secretary at Abercrombie & Fitch.
The International Labor Organization wanted an annual report on Abercrombie and Fitch’s adherence to the code. Abercrombie and Fitch said that was a problem because “the vast proportion of information (in the current vendor report) is proprietary.” Abercrombie and Fitch still continues to be very vague when it comes to exposing their activities in forcing the suppliers to comply with labor codes. Abercrombie and Fitch shifted its production from one factory to another which results in a lack of stable orders at the factory.
ABC News did an investigative report on the factory conditions in the Mariana Islands in 1998 finding that the workers lived in rat- infested barracks with broken toilets and contaminated water. A lawsuit was filed by Chinese migrants in 1999 against Abercrombie and Fitch and other companies. This lawsuit stated that thousands of Chinese migrant workers produced garments in the Mariana Islands and had to pay up to $7,000 to arrive to the Mariana Islands on the promise of getting a good job. When they arrived they found they had to repay their debts by sewing clothes 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. “Many were forced to sign contracts forbidding them from participating in religious or political activity asking for a raise, having a baby, falling in love or getting married.”
In 1999 the annual sales at Abercrombie and Fitch was $1.2 billion. The net profit at the time was $158 million. CEO, Michael S. Jeffries’ annual compensation was $4 million. The Abercrombie and Fitch’s workers in the Mariana Islands wage in 1999 was $3.05 or less an hour. A lawsuit was filed in March of 2000 against Levi Strauss and Co., Calvin Klein Inc., Brooks Brothers Inc., Abercrombie and Fitch Co., The Talbots Inc., and Woolrich Inc. The lawsuit stated that the contractors and manufacturers and retailers engaged in and benefited from forced labor. The lawsuit also stated that workers were forced into conditions constituting peonage and involuntary servitude, in violation of human rights laws. This was the first attempt to hold U.S. retailers, designers, and manufacturers accountable for mistreatment of workers in foreign- owned factories on U.S. territory soil.
In 2002 Abercrombie and Fitch settled a lawsuit filed by workers in the Mariana Islands. The lawsuit alleged that they were mistreated while they worked for the company’s vendors. Abercrombie and Fitch stated that similar future lapses in supply chain management could damage the company’s image and have a negative impact on the shareholder’s value. The investors believe that in order to avoid problems like this in the future, the vendors should raise the labor standards. As of January 15, 2009 there are no longer any garment manufacturers on the island. In the past twelve months Abercrombie and Fitch’s total earnings were $1.320 billion.
In conclusion Abercrombie and Fitch’s factories in the Philippines and the Mariana Islands have had child slave labor in them. Abercrombie and Fitch has not publically addressed these concerns by releasing their labor conduct codes. They claim they had already had this code for nearly a decade so they don’t feel they need to publish it again. The best thing we can do to help stop the child labor in the Philippines and the Mariana Islands is to not buy Abercrombie and Fitch clothes. These clothes are made by children who are forced into working long hours at the factories and this is immorally wrong.