Fair Trade Shopping

Anthropologie = Fair Trade? Guess again.

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 wrote:

Hi,

I’m wondering where your rugs are made, and if the factories producing them are fair labor factories.
Thank you,
Jane

Instead of offering up some reassuring facts, they simply replied:

Hello Jane,

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 service@anthropologie.com.

Please include this email with your reply.
Sincerely,
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.

Why?

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?

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40 Comments

  • Reply Steff at 8:16 am

    I’d think you were crazy if you spent loads of money on something made by slaves.
    Great job on this, thanks for thedetailed info!

  • Reply Anna at 10:00 am

    I don’t think you’re crazy at all. I don’t really consider people’s lives to be “details” and I wish that more people would put as much thought into the things that they buy!

  • Reply Jenn L @ peas and crayons at 10:18 am

    BOO! For how expensive their stuff is, they should be gushing about how they give their workers fabulous conditions to work and thrive in. Eff em

    • Reply Jane at 10:32 am

      I totally agree. Get this: the President/Founder was quoted as saying that raising workers’ pay would result in layoffs and higher consumer prices. Can you believe that!

  • Reply Jeannine @ Small & Chic at 11:32 am

    Urban Outfitters has been dinged time and again for stealing work for their almost iconic t-shirt collections. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised they they are ethically challenged.

    So frustrating. Imagine the profits they are making!

  • Reply Sunny's Life in Rehab at 12:27 pm

    Crazy? Huh uh. Until the rest of the world starts complying, we should stop shelling out cash to fund their unethical practices. You just blew the whistle.

  • Reply Amanda at 3:44 pm

    Nope, you’re not crazy. Those prices are crazy! While I do love their stuff, I’m with you- I would only spend that much if it guaranteed safe and fair working conditions for the employees. If I hear “Well if they didn’t work in the sweatshop they wouldn’t have a job at all” one more time, I’m going to strangle someone. That is the lamest excuse, and you’re right- we can do better.

  • Reply Zengirl at 4:38 pm

    I have been wondering about this, and the company, which was founded in my home — Philly, does not have the best reputation. It’s a shame because I do adore their clothing. Does anyone have a suggestion for a company that has a similar look and does meet Fair Labor standards? Or, do you know of any labels that Anthro carries that are actually meeting these standards? It would be cool to publish a list of safe choices.

    • Reply jamie at 3:38 pm

      So usually when I shop there I try & stick to American made brands, which they do seem to carry quite a few of…Bailey 44, Velvet by Graham & Spencer, Weston Wear, Three Dots, Joes Jeans, Paige jeans and I think maybe Bordeaux too. Please correct me if I’m wrong on any of these but I believe these are all pretty legitimate brands.

      • Reply Jane at 7:40 pm

        I think you’re right about that. Also, I’ve seen a lot change for the better in the last few years.

      • Reply Adrienne at 1:38 pm

        Be careful with Velvet by Graham & Spencer. Not all their stuff is made in the USA. Some is imported from India. However, they are very transparent about where each item is made on their website.

  • Reply Chelsea M. at 1:50 pm

    Wow… love this post. I’m so glad to have an excuse not to buy their products! (They are nice, but pricey) Hopefully consumers can put pressure on the business to adopt fair labor standards, although it’ll require more publicizing of this information.. I wish there was one source people could go to in order to easily find this kind of information… because this really makes me wonder about other companies. Thanks for researching this though.

  • Reply Robin at 3:46 pm

    Here is another resource on products made by slaves (including an interactive map!): http://www.productsofslavery.org/

  • Reply Julia at 11:07 am

    Excellent and informative post Jane. I wouldn’t dream of spending over $200 on a rug anyway, so most rugs are way out of my price range. But, for the people who do spend more on rugs I think the argument for fair labor remains the same. Until people will only buy fair labor/fair trade products, I don’t know how much will change.

    I bet a killer DIY would be using remnants to actually make a patterned rug. I haven’t put much action into that thought however.

  • Reply Jennifer at 7:01 pm

    I just found your blog today. LOVE it even though I am a home owner now. I completely agree with you on this post. As consumers the only way we have to disagree with a companies policies is to stop shopping there. I love anthropology BUT given their propensity to questionable source their product ideas from the indie craft/design community and now apparently their lack of concern regarding basic human rights, I am with you in avoiding purchasing their products.

    Love the “What the hell” posts as well…my husband would totally agree with just about all of them. 🙂

    Thanks for the lovely blog!

  • Reply Jessica at 10:29 pm

    I HATE that I can’t shop at anthropolgie with not only feeling guilty about how much I am spending, but also uncertainty about labor practices…bleh. I do love shopping at Ten Thousand Villages (http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/) though…funky anthropolgie-like stuff and fairly paid artisans. yeahhh! They also have INCredible rugs.

  • Reply I’m Trashy | The Borrowed Abode at 11:43 am

    […] the mall since April. I’ve investigated labor conditions in factories used by companies like Anthropologie.  These are the choices that I make, and they are the right choices for […]

  • Reply Crate & Barrel: An ethically acceptable choice? | The Borrowed Abode at 7:46 am

    […] sure is a much more encouraging response than the one I received from Anthropologie!  I now feel a bit more comfortable shopping at Crate and Barrel.  They also appear to have a […]

  • Reply Fabíola at 8:45 am

    Hi, Jane!

    Loved your blog! So useful and so full of consciousness!
    I really love the handmade dishtowels and other kitchen items at Anthropologie… Do you know anything about their suppliers? I’d be glad to know who supplies those items so that I can verify the working conditions before purchasing…
    Thanks!

  • Reply Adrielle at 3:30 pm

    Thanks for the information, it would be awesome to hear what fair trade alternatives you find.

  • Reply Audrey Greene at 11:28 pm

    Thank you for this. A new Anthropologie store opened in my neighborhood. Even though I’d been in the store in NYC, and seen their online stuff, I walked through the new store. I felt disgusted by this place. It seeks to project a world-art, folky kind of vibe, but everything is so freakin’ expensive. $42 t-shirts! $98 jersey pants! $20 coffee cups! It all made me sick. I’ll bet their mark-up on the t-shirts is 500%. I appreciate that you took the time to try to research their labor practices which further illustrate their dishonesty and corruption. I won’t be shopping at Anthropologie.

  • Reply What the !@#$% Are You Wearing {Featuring “MaryInk”} | The Borrowed Abode at 8:29 am

    […] buying clothes at Target, for sure.   Anthropologie / Urban Outfitters also disappointed when I researched their labor conditions.  And I’ve cut out all the other mall stores until I can research their approach to […]

  • Reply Love4sushi at 3:53 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this! I was part of a Christian conference in Atlanta GA and we (45,000 college kids) got together and raised over 3 million dollars against slavery and sex traffic around the world. Now im trying to find cute clothes that i like but dont want to spend my money supporting stores that dont respect human dignity. Any advice? Kudos for the post by the way!

    • Reply Jane @ The Borrowed Abode at 4:04 pm

      Hi – First off, thank you so much for sharing!
      Your efforts at the conference are such a wonderful example of working as Christians to spread love and, as you said, respect human dignity. That is seriously awesome.

      Now, about shopping. . . I have to say that the amount of shopping I’ve done has decreased since I really committed myself to “thinking before buying”, so to speak. I’m still researching companies, but from what I’ve learned so far, these are a few that have better labor policies:

      – J. Crew
      – Ann Taylor / Ann Taylor Loft
      – American Apparel
      – Alternative Apparel
      – Shabby Apple (online only, I think)

      I really recommend thrift store shopping. If you’re not into the Goodwill sort of shopping experience, consignment stores offer a much more traditional setup – neat racks, nice quality of clothes – while still offering reasonable prices. I use Yelp.com to search for consignment stores wherever I’m shopping.

      Etsy has an awesome supply of vintage clothes at all prices, and also new clothes. I particularly like the t-shirts sold by MaryInk on Etsy –
      they’re fair trade tees that are screen printed. But beware of clothes
      coming from sellers in India or Asia – there is a big problem with
      companies (most likely sweatshop operations) masquerading as handmade
      product sellers on Etsy just to make some money. I won’t buy products from
      those countries, because of this unfortunate problem on Etsy.

      I hope to be able to blog more about fair trade clothes shopping this year.
      Thanks so much for commenting!!

      -Jane

  • Reply Bridesmaids: Dressed. | The Borrowed Abode: Apartment and small space decorating tips for renters and homeowners. at 9:25 am

    […] probably know I don’t like to buy sweatshop-produced merchandise.  I first looked for US-made or sweatshop-free dresses, but the only options I found were very […]

    • Reply Jane @ The Borrowed Abode at 3:36 pm

      Thanks so much, Paula! This is great. I don’t remember this being there before, do you know if this is new?

  • Reply Cassie Imel at 11:20 am

    Thank you for this post. I have been recently researching the products I regularly purchase to find out if they are part of the fair trade movement.

    I have been severely disappointed to find that a lot of them do not meet the ethica standards I had hoped for.

    I have been using this site as a guide to start buying products from companies that are fair trade certified;

    http://www.fairtradeusa.org/

    I am currently writing a blog post about all of this as well. I was so happy to come across yours. I have bought from Anthropologie in the past and I was so disappointed to read this. I am so glad you enlightened me. Thanks for your information and I am glad to hear that others won’t stand for this too!

    Cassie
    all-things-good.org

    • Reply Jane at 3:51 pm

      Hi Cassie! Thanks so much for the awesome information and that website. I do want to be totally honest and let oyu know that I recently learned that Anthropoligie FINALLY joined a world fair trade organization and has improved their game a lot since I did that post a few years ago. There’s still work to be done with them and most other companies, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

      It is SO hard to find companies that really put an emphasis on ethical sourcing/manufacturing. Off to check out your blog 🙂

  • Reply Bradley Parker at 8:58 pm

    I’m sad that people are going to read this and think it is true. I’m not entirely sure what type of “enthusiastic” response you were looking for. They stated their code of conduct which was appropriate to your question. Also, the four sentences you are referring to are meant for employees working within a store, like a sales associate or manager. I know this because I’ve worked for the company and these were the rules we were given. They were not meant for factory workers overseas. Plus, Anthro is one of the few stores featuring designers who manufacture goods in the United States like AG, Splendid, and Imogen and Willie just to name a few. And anyone who shops at Anthro knows the prices are high because the quality cannot be beat by stores like Forever 21and H&M (who have both been nailed for unethical behavior to drive lower price points). So their markup is most likely the same as the cheaper stores, but it costs more to produce the items. Quality fabric and trims are more expensive than you think. There are plenty of unethical companies that are abusing their workers who should be recognized and punished. Based on your facts, I still don’t believe that Anthropologie is one of them.

  • Reply Nathy at 12:39 am

    I was an anthropology major in college, and I often joke that I traded anthropology for Anthropologie. I must admit it’s one of my favorite stores, because it combines all the wonderful things you could ever find at a thrift store and eliminates the “hunting” part of thrift shopping– everything in there is pleasing to the eye, all prettied up and ready to be taken home with you. It was my understanding that they were a sustainable, fair trade company. I’ve heard horror stories about every ethically responsible company out there, from American Apparel to Urban Outfitters and so on. So I’m very weary about shopping anywhere, really, and I’m even more suspicious of companies that purport sustainability, fair trade, etc. They know all the buzz words and it seems like they’re willing to throw them out there while they sweep sweat-shop factory scandals under the rug.

    I did read your update in one of the comments that Anthropologie has changed its stance somewhat when it comes to fair trade. I hope this is true (didn’t really find them in that Fair Trade USA site– only one entry on some of their soaps!), and I hope they continue to improve.

    • Reply Jane at 7:46 am

      Hey Nathy – I love how you described it as all the fun of a thrift store but without the hunt. Such a good description.
      I was disconcerted by what I found because I had gotten the impression that they were representing themselves as a step above other companies in regards to labor. However, like you said I posted that update. I think I need to do some investigating now and write an update in more detail when I have it. Thanks for commenting!

  • Reply Marie Palmer at 1:08 pm

    Thanks so much for your research and links. That is disappointing. I love their style, but I don’t want to support a company with such low human rights standards.

    • Reply Jane at 9:57 am

      Hi Marie – I have been told numerous times that they have improved their labor standards since I wrote this post, but have not had time to research it yet. Hopefully that is true. Just an idea if you love their clothes – my friend and I both buy their clothes on places like eBay. Bonus? It’s more affordable!

  • Reply Nadia at 4:40 am

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. I never understood why Anthropologie is so expensive when I know their clothes are probably made in the same sweatshop factories as everything else. If I’m paying that much money for an item of clothing, it better be made in good working conditions and with great materials. Anthropologie is not worth it; the clothes can be cute, but they’re not worth it.

    • Reply Jane at 9:23 am

      Hey Nadia – As an update, I wanted to mention that I was in Anthropologie the other day looking at the items and saw a ton of clothes now say made in the USA…so that’s something I’m curious to learn more about.

  • Reply Nancy at 2:08 am

    Does anyone know who the supplier is for the rugs sold at Urban Outfitters? They have a wide range of rugs so they may have several suppliers. I contacted them to ask for a swatch of a rug that is only sold online so I could see if it would match my decor. I was informed that they do not have swatches of any of their rugs. Are their rugs made by their own factories or do they buy them from various vendors? If I could find the vendor, I bet I could get a swatch.

  • Reply Dana at 7:10 am

    Thanks!
    I suspected as much, but thanks to your effort, I don’t need to think any further and just strike them off my list.

  • Reply Diana at 11:06 pm

    You are not crazy at all!! I totally admire you for writing this and then sharing it with everyone!

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