I wanted to post this on its own because the main changeover thread really has about 4 consecutive discussions going on and it isn't really conducive to any kind of real discourse. I'll try to keep things short, but it's a complex issue so bear with me. Skip to the bottom if you want the short version.
Why it's important to support American made goods
This is something that a lot of people here care about. It's also something that a lot of people have pushed aside as a minor issue. Unfortunately, much of the discourse has centered on the straw man of "dey took ur jerbs!!!"
For me it really isn't about job loss or where the jobs are. It's about the quality of the job that is being supported. Following is a list of things that I think a lot of people are taking completely for granted in no particular order:
1) Minumum wage
2) Protected break and lunch time
3) 8 hour standard work day + overtime for any hours worked over 8 a day or 40 a week
5) Workman's comp/disability
There are a lot more I haven't listed, but the bottom line is that an American worker costs a lot more than just hourly wage and that isn't necessarily true in outsourced factory. In fact, that is the primary reason for outsourcing because you get cheap labor that you can work unreasonable hours without providing any kind of benefits or services.
There are other costs to manufacturing in the US including fairly strict regulations on energy use, waste management and pollution that don't exist in countries where factories are outsourced. You also have to think about the impact these decision have on our environment and our planet.
Now I'd like to break down what things I've been able to find about both companies and I'll start with AA.
I've not been able to find any articles that would suggest American Apparel is circumventing any labor laws. They pride themselves on running sweatshop free conditions, and from what I have been able to find that appears to be true. There are two major issues with AA that have been brought up: undocumented workers and unions.
AA factory workers are not unionized. Management actively tried to block the establishment of a union in 2003. Though the article gement linked is a bit more editorial than journalism, I have no reason to believe any of the facts reported are wrong.
There is subtlety to the story. From what I gather an outside Union agency approached workers at AA to inquire about worker's desire to form a union. It was not initiated in house. Also, despite complaints by the union AA was not found to have done anything actionable legally. It is still very unclear whether a union would have had the support needed to establish itself.
That being said, AA played their hand and it was anti-union in every respect. They even refused to allow neutral site talks between the union agency and workers so that they could talk without fear of reprisal. This is a definitive negative for AA.
I really don't want to get into the politics of this too deeply so I will only cover the major points. In 2009 AA was forced to fire 1,500 workers that could not provide sufficient documentation (1/4 of its workforce). Some see this as a victory, but along with some other including AA I see it as a complete failure and here's why.
The workers fired were being paid an average hourly wage of $12 (the average for the entire factory workforce). The article I linked interviewed one who had been promoted from a sewing machine operator to a job coordinating manager. However you feel about undocumented workers, if they are going to be hired at all they should be paid a normal wage and receive benefits and they were. Unlikely the union case, I am in full support of AA in this area.
This bring me to the final wrinkle.....
Dov Charney is a sexist, paternalist pig. There's really no other conclusion that can be reached. I have very little doubt that the anti-union sentiments derive directly from him. It's also pretty clear that the instability is directly related to his poor management. Here is a thread from last year when AA's financial instability was coming out. There are a few articles, one at the top and two at the very bottom and some other thoughts from people (those missing Adder can relive the glory). Basically, AA drove its business into the ground by overextending itself into retail. In every analysis I have seen the bulk business is not only good, but it is the reason AA isn't bankrupt already.
Dov jeopardized the successful bulk business for ill conceived retail expansion and it nearly cost them. They have since been rescued by a Canadian investment firm and for the past 4 quarters sales are up. I believe they are still seeing a net loss just much smaller than previous.
The major point is that there is little relationship between Dov and the product. Dov is scum, but it is curious to me that the scumbag is the about the only who who cares about manufacturing in the US. I don't know what it says about the other companies, but it certainly isn't good.
Instability at AA is due to Dov's idiocy and the loss of 1,500 skilled workers almost overnight. Unfortunately, it appears Dov isn't going anywhere (though it some things I have read suggest he might be at least keeping his nose clean). The loss of workers is something they expect to recover from and I don't see why they wouldn't as new people are trained.
I can't in any way defend Dov or the anti-union activities. But what I can say is that their products are made in a country where there are strong protections not only for worker wage but for benefits and conditions. There are also much stronger restrictions on environmental impact. No company is perfect, but I have more good feelings about AA than negative.
So the information we have to start with is that Anvil is 77% unionized and that their factories are WRAP certified. And I will fully admit this doesn't mean any more to me than it probably does to you. So I read through the corporate responsibility website and looked up some things on my own based on stuff posted in the previous thread. And here's what I've found.
This is an excellent blog everyone should read. The author is asking the exact same question we all are, "People are moving from AA because of stability concerns, but where should we go and is Anvil the answer?" You'll be able to tell quite quickly their answer is no and it certainly gives me pause.
What is clear is that Anvil has gone through a major restructuring recently in large part to rehab their image and hopefully to actually do what they say. I'll break down the major things from the blog I just posted. In which there are several reports from the Worker Rights Consortium which detail abuses at Anvil's factory including (but not necessarily limited to) physical abuse, sexual harrassment of female workers, restrictions in bathroom use, and forced overtime. For what? For attempting to unionize.....
The same report details the firing of 55 workers for attempting to unionize which is illegal under Honduran law. After outside pressure from the WRC and other workers rights organizations the workers were reinstated, but it is unclear that they ever received lost pay that they are also due by law.
In another case their Hugger factory was closed without notifying workers who appeared for work only to find themselves locked outside with signs informing them the factory was closed. This is also illegal in Honduras and the workers were owed over 2 million lost wages. I have been able to find no articles that it was or wasn't eventually paid.
These reports were from 2007 to 2009 while Anvil was WRAP certified. What does that mean? Apparently it is an internal certification that is then checked by an outside investigator paid by Anvil. It is neither independent nor is it public. The blogger attempted to get a copy and received nothing but a checklist that said things were "OK."
It seems dubious at best though there was an interesting tidbit in the social responsibility page. Anvil's factories are powered by bunker oil. If you don't know, bunker oil is the sludge left over from the oil refining process after the higher octane fuels have been taken off. It is full of impurities and irregularities and when burned it looks like this.
So what do I think. There's a lot of really nice boilerplate language about sustainability and environmental protection on Anvil's website. They are among the leading consumers of organic cotton (not in the shirts woot is buying though). They have a largely unionized workforce and have at least measured their environmental impact.
However, I have every reason to believe the only reasons their workforce is unionized is because they were forced to allow it not because they wanted it or care. They went well beyond the measures taken by AA to stop the unions. Given that they only unionized in 2010 and these reports are from 2007 at the earliest that suggest a very long bitter fight and I have very little confidence Anvil did so humanely.
Additionally, they are still burning bunker oil which is a horrible pollutant. I haven't been able to find much else on the environmental impacts of their factories, but the restrictions are not the same as the US and I do not feel hopeful that waste is handled any better.
What does it all mean?
I have not found anything that leads me to believe that worker conditions in Honduras are as good or even close to the quality in Los Angeles. I have not found a single article that says anything about the unionization at Anvil either, so I have no way to gauge what benefits or protections they have, but I also doubt they compare to the basic rights afforded to workers in the US.
So yes, Anvil has a lot of language that is good. They have a lot of statements that are good, but I haven't seen anything that would lead me to think things actually are good. In fact the evidence is quite the opposite. I would like to believe that they are true, but I don't go much by faith. AA is not perfect (it would be a whole lot closer without Dov), but there are a lot of things about it I can support. I don't see any I know I can support with Anvil....
I cannot in good conscience support the change to Anvil. Everything I have read and seen suggests that worker conditions and compensation is worse than AA up to and including true abuses of worker's rights.
I welcome any thoughts, criticisms, additions, or corrections, but I care very little for statements. We have a lot of statements from woot and Anvil all of which have nothing behind them to convince me to take their word for it. Whatever perspective you would like to take, please bring evidence. I hope at least this might be enlightening for some as to why I have taken the stance I have.