To: Jerry Stritzke, CEO, Joshua Hamlin, Chair of the REI Board of Directors, Catherine Walker, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Kirk Myers, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager, Libby Catalinich, Director of Corporate Communicat...
REI, Drop North Face Sweatshops!
In the last two years alone, over 1,500 Bangladeshi garment workers have died in preventable factory disasters. The North Face and its parent company, VF Corporation, have a particularly egregious track record with respect to worker rights in Bangladesh and beyond. We are asking REI, a self-styled progressive cooperative that once vowed not to carry clothing produced in sweatshops, to cut ties with The North Face and show that it will not tolerate apparel brands that abuse basic human rights.
Why is this important?
Recreational Equipment, Inc., better known as REI, is one of the largest outdoor sports retailers in the country. Started in 1938 by a group of environmentalists, it was structured as a co-op so that members could be involved and invested in the practices and decisions of the company.
But in recent years, REI has slowly begun to change. The company brought in a new CEO, apparel industry insider Jerry Stritzke, and started changing long-term policies that were once their biggest draws. Allegations of sexist practices in promotions have surfaced more frequently. And most recently, after once vowing that it would not carry clothing made in sweatshops, REI has rejected calls from students, workers, and its own members to stop selling clothes produced in sweatshops by The North Face, a brand owned by the world’s largest producer of branded apparel, VF Corporation.
The North Face/VF has been embroiled in international controversy over its serial record of human rights abuses. In particular, REI members have expressed grave concerns about the safety of workers who produce apparel for The North Face/VF in factories that function as literal deathtraps. In 2010, The North Face/VF was responsible for 29 worker deaths and over 100 injuries when one of their factories in Bangladesh caught fire. Just last month, another VF factory caught fire, injuring and hospitalizing several workers. In-depth investigations have shown that The North Face/VF is operating equally unsafe factories in the country. Any of the 91 factories where they produce could easily become the next Rana Plaza. That’s 190,000 workers putting their lives on the line every day because of The North Face/VF’s greed.
In the face of these repeated disasters, one would think that The North Face/VF would embrace a new approach to worker safety. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. The North Face/VF has staunchly refused to sign an innovative, legally-binding agreement between apparel brands and garment worker unions – now signed by over 175 brands – called the Bangladesh Safety Accord.
Instead of signing the Accord, The North Face/VF has joined forces with its buddies at Wal-Mart to create a company-controlled, non-binding agreement called the “Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety,” which has been heavily criticized for its lack of meaningful inclusion of garment workers and their unions, and its failure to require brands to pay a single cent toward the repair and renovation of unsafe factories. Simply put, The North Face/VF’s refusal to accept legally-binding responsibility for worker safety has placed it among most backwards and regressive companies in the global apparel industry.
Moreover, The North Face/VF’s violations in Bangladesh are the most egregious cases in the litany of other sweatshop abuses at its supplier factories, including stolen severance pay in Honduras, poverty wages in Cambodia that have led to massive worker strikes, and violence against union organizers across the globe. Since September, VF Corporation has lost at least 15 university licensing contracts over the company’s failure to comply with these university’s expectations for fair labor practices. These universities have taken a decisive stand for workers rights against the largest branded apparel company in the world.
But instead of taking their own members' concerns about The North Face seriously, REI has chosen to defend The North Face, calling their refusal to sign the Accord a “legitimate choice,” while refusing to meet with students and REI members about our concerns. This irresponsible, cavalier response to member concerns demonstrates that REI has lost sight of its values to maximize profit at any cost.
As concerned proponents of human rights, we urge REI to sever its business relationship with The North Face/VF unless the company signs the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Workers around the world deserve better – and REI can do better.
Learn more here: REIsweatshops.com