Anthropologie / Urban Outfitters has seriously disappointed me. Of course that has to happen just when I’m finally at a point where I can afford to shop there!
Let’s back up a few steps, shall we?
After Robin enlightened me about the poor working conditions and child labor employed by most rug manufacturers, I contacted Anthropologie to “make sure” their rugs (and other goods) were produced in fair labor conditions, without the use of sweatshops. I really, really wanted to buy one of their rugs for my living room.
I was so sure that they’re reply to my inquisitive email with a positive message about their focus on working conditions.
I’m wondering where your rugs are made, and if the factories producing them are fair labor factories.
Instead of offering up some reassuring facts, they simply replied:
Thanks for writing Anthropologie. Please know that we take workplace human rights very seriously and we insist that our business be conducted according to high ethical standards. As a requirement of doing business with Anthropologie; our vendors and their suppliers must commit to meeting our Code of Conduct standards and conditions of employment.
You can find our full Code of Conduct and Ethics by visiting: http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=115825&p=irol-govboard
If you require additional assistance or have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include this email with your reply.
Stephanie Hinson, Anthropologie
Well, that wasn’t the positive and enthusiastic reply I hoped for, but I hopped over to their corporate governance document to see what it said.
E. Comply With Health and Safety
Urban strives to provide a safe and healthy work environment. Each employee has responsibility for maintaining a safe and healthy workplace for all employees by following safety and health rules and practices. Violence and threatening behavior are not permitted. Employees should report to work in a condition to perform their duties, free from the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol.
Four sentences. That’s all they wrote about labor conditions. And those four sentences really only sound like a disclosure required by US law. Just four sentences, to address how people – human beings – are treated. Yet they devote pages to financial regulations, such as insider trading and conflicts of interest. To protect their money, their assets.
Well, I did still have more questions, so I wrote back, asking for more info – such as how do they ensure sweatshops are not used in their supply chain. Anthropologie never responded. I wrote them off as a company that I didn’t need to buy from, but I was disappointed.
Now, writing this post, I thought I’d better double-check my facts before ranting about them. I’ve Googled all sorts of things, trying to get some concrete facts one way or another because I certainly don’t want to post inaccurate information. And I was not thrilled with what I found, especially in their recent SEC filings.
In past years, including April 2009, shareholders proposed that the company:
Adopt, implement and enforce a publicly-available Code of Conduct that would extend to the companies’ suppliers and that would include internationally-recognized workplace human rights based on the International Labor Organization’s core conventions.
Urban Outfitters does not have a publicly-disclosed Code of Conduct, does not publicly report details of how it monitors any human rights policy, and does not publicly report how its suppliers comply with its expectations. . . Urban Outfitters lags far behind its peers in the specialty retail segment. Two of the largest specialty retailers in the world, Gap Inc. and H&M-Hennes & Mauritz AB, publish Codes of Conduct and issue periodic reports detailing their efforts and progress in enforcing their human rights policies.
The results? I can’t find them for the 2009 proposal, and I need to get to sleep, but in 2007 they voted against it:
The Board of Directors unanimously recommends voting against this proposal and believes that we have adequately addressed the matters raised by the proposal through the terms of our agreements with our outside vendors and through a compliance program for apparel products designed and produced in-house.
They go on to say that they don’t want to adopt the ILO standards because they want to “recognize and respect the cultural and legal differences in the world.” That sounds fishy to me. If another country has lower ethical and legal standards, as in sweatshops and child slave labor, we don’t have to respect that. We can do better.
So it looks like I’m going to be looking for an affordable and fun living room rug elsewhere. I’m sure by now you’re thinking that I’m crazy, getting this wrapped up in the details. But I figure if I’m going to spend hundreds – or thousands – on a single item for my home, I would rather keep looking for one that fits my standards.
Is it too much to ask that the people who manufacture our home decor be treated ethically?