American Apparel's Wrinkles

The sweatshop-free company's progressive ideals are under scrutiny

| August 18, 2005

EDITOR'S NOTE: In These Times, one of our primary sources for this article, has published two corrections to its story. Utne regrets the errors.

  1. American Apparel was not charged with any labor violations as a result of the complaint that UNITE filed with the National Labor Relations Board. As part of a no-contest settlement, the company voluntarily posted a notice informing workers that it would not interfere with their rights to organize.
  2. The quotes from Jane magazine are incorrect; they were sourced from an article in NYU's student paper, Washington Square News. The Jane article is now available online. The domestic violence quote appeared in the Concordia University student paper, The Link. According to Charney, he never spoke to the reporter from The Link.

We regret these errors.

There's been some bad news for socially conscious fashionistas of late. The beloved clothing company American Apparel has been sullied by accusations of sexual harassment against founder and CEO Dov Charney. And the manufacturer's racy ad campaigns of scantily clad young women have turned off many customers who love the sweatshop-free label, but aren't down with misogyny.

But another set of complaints is taking aim at the heart of the company's progressive credentials -- fair labor practices. Writing in In These Times, Ari Paul accuses Charney of going on a 'union-busting blitzkrieg' to prevent workers at his downtown Los Angeles factory from organizing for better benefits like paid time off and affordable health care.

The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) began the unionization campaign in 2003. In February, it announced that the company was 'in settlement talks with the National Labor Relations Board for violating federal law by blocking the unionization of its shop,' the Columbia News Service reports.

That's tough PR for a company that's built its customer base by appealing to consumers' willingness to shell out extra cash for duds that don't exploit workers. Charney has responded in kind by calling UNITE 'just another corporate agent,' a claim the Columbia News Service backs up by citing the some $1 billion UNITE has won from companies but not shared with union members.

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