For immediate release
June 12, 2007
NEW YORK, June 12 — U.S. and Canadian university students joined apparel and service workers today to announce the beginning of a Back-to-School boycott of American Eagle Outfitters near the retailer’s Union Square store. Today’s rally coincided with American Eagle’s annual shareholder meeting in midtown Manhattan and featured hundreds of activists pledging not to purchase clothing from the chain store until it enforces its Code of Conduct at the company’s Canadian distribution contractor, National Logistics Services. Over the coming months, thousands of young people will sign the boycott pledge online and in front of American Eagle Outfitters stores.
American Eagle manufactures casual clothing for young men and women and operates nearly 1,000 stores in North America. National Logistics Services (NLS) is a third-party distributor that ships American Eagle merchandise throughout Canada from its warehouse in Mississauga, Ontario.
Warrendale, Pennsylvania-based American Eagle now outsources its Canadian distribution operations to NLS, but the clothing company directly owned and operated the distribution center until early 2006. Though they no longer own the facility, American Eagle remains NLS’s largest customer, and the distribution center serves the retailer’s expanding base of 73 stores in Canada. AEO’s decision to outsource its distribution did not eliminate their responsibility to oversee the labor conditions and operations at the Ontario facility.
Since American Eagle sold the facility, workers have reported that conditions have deteriorated, wages have stagnated, and there is little job security. Workers at NLS faced harassment and intimidation when they tried to improve conditions by forming a union. Employing a tactic outside the norm of Ontario labor relations, NLS hired an American consulting firm that orchestrated an anti-union campaign against the 180 workers. After this campaign of misinformation, workers lost the vote to join UNITE HERE despite expressing a desire to form a union just one week before.
American Eagle’s Code of Conduct for Vendors and Contractors specifically protects freedom of association and other basic rights for the employees of its contractors. Though UNITE HERE has charged that NLS’s actions violate the terms set out in the company’s code, American Eagle has not taken any steps to enforce it and take responsibility for the dispute at its subcontractor.
“American Eagle reported another year of high sales figures to shareholders today,” Alex Dagg, UNITE HERE’s Canadian Co-Director, told the students and union members at the rally. “But behind the company’s recent success is a group of workers at a distribution center near Toronto who help make it happen. Not so long ago, these men and women worked directly for American Eagle. Now they face mistreatment at the hands of a contractor. It’s time for American Eagle to step up and take responsibility.”
Student groups from both countries including United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), and several Toronto-area student unions have joined with UNITE HERE to launch the Back-to-School Boycott. The groups will encourage their members, who number in the tens of thousands, to sign the boycott pledge at www.AmericanVulture.org. Store actions in targeted cities will also inform customers about the boycott. Already, more than 3,500 supporters throughout North America (including many student activists) have contacted American Eagle and NLS to voice their outrage with the tactics used at the warehouse.
UNITE HERE represents more than 450,000 active union members and more than 400,000 retirees in the U.S. and Canada including those who sew, ship and sell clothing. With more than a century of history in the apparel industry, the union has fought to improve working conditions in North America and in sweatshops overseas. Today, over 30,000 members work at more than 200 distribution centers, including Liz Claiborne, Levi’s and TJX stores.