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Ethics in the news: 2013 to 2015

We constantly see headlines in the news around ethical issues that emerge, and here we learn about some of these issues in recent years.

These selected headlines from 2013 to 2015 reflect some of the ethical issues emergent in the fashion industry.

In the years after 2010, the ethical emphasis moved beyond intellectual property topics, product safety, and environmental manufacturing concerns, to human rights issues, particularly emphasising diversities (in culture, ethnicity, race, size, and ability).

2013

Racial profiling

Racial profiling is not only associated with street-based police action. The Reverend, Al Sharpton, activist and founder of National Action Network, met with Macy’s officials, including president and CEO Terry Lundgren, members of the National Urban League, and others to discuss ways all customers could be treated equally after a profiling incident involving actor Robert Brown. Brown, who is Black, was detained by plainclothes police officers in Macy’s, accused of using fraudulent credit cards during the purchase of a $1,350 Movado watch.

Fair wages

As the second-largest global exporter of fashion garments, the Bangladesh industry gained attention over concerns regarding its low minimum wages. As a result of worker protests, an age board was established to investigate the situation, recommending an increase in minimum monthly wages from $38.62 to $68 (5,300 takas). The wage rate had not been increased since 2010, when it was raised from the equivalent of $21.39 to $38.62. Employers baulked at this drastic rate increase, ultimately declining to implement the full proposed wage.

2014

Minimum wage

In addition to his 2014 initiative to increase the US national minimum wage, President Barrack Obama urged US companies to pay workers in foreign countries a better standard of living wages. The author referenced wage-related protests in Bangladesh and Cambodia as key areas where wage increases are likely, noting that some mid-tier retailers (Gap and H&M) might feel pressure, but overall, economists proclaimed that wage increases in countries of heavy garment production would not be expected to substantially increase manufacturing costs.

Racial profiling

In a case similar to the Macy’s incident mentioned above, Barneys also faced scrutiny for the treatment of Black customers, specifically profiling two Black shoppers, Trayton Christian, who was detained after purchasing a $349 Ferragamo belt, and Kayla Phillips, who was profiled after purchasing a Céline bag for $2,500. According to AJ Karr in Women’s Wear Daily, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman concluded that Barneys “maintained inadequate records of stops made by their loss-prevention employees, but despite these lapses, existing records showed a disproportionate number of black and Latino customers being detained for alleged shoplifting or credit card fraud.”

2015

Discrimination

Fashion apparel brands walk a fine line between reflecting their brands through the sales personnel who interact with customers and remaining bias-free and lawful in their hiring practices. When Samantha Elauf applied for a job with Abercrombie, the children’s division of Abercrombie and Fitch, in 2008, she performed well but was not hired, presumably because of the hajib she wore. Ultimately, in 2015 her case was heard by the Supreme Court, which ruled 8–1 in her favour.

According to the author, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “[A]n employer who acts with the motive of avoiding accommodation may violate [the law] even if he has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed.”

This ruling returned the case to the lower court for reconsideration.

Resources

  1. Lockwood, L. (November 5, 2013). Macy’s meets with Sharpton over racial profiling issue. Women’s Wear Daily, p. 11.
  2. Saini, M. (November 5, 2013). Bangladesh board proposes 77% wage hike. Women’s Wear Daily, p. 2.
  3. Ellis, K. (January 30, 2014). Minimum wage debate becomes global issue. Women’s Wear Daily, pp. 1, 6.
  4. Karr, A.J. (August 12, 2014). Barneys New York settles racial profiling probe. Women’s Wear Daily, pp. 1, 6.
  5. Jamieson, D. (June 2, 2015). Available: Supreme Court rules against Abercrombie & Fitch in discrimination case HuffPost.
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Consumers and Ethical Considerations in the Fashion Industry

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