University students joined UNITE HERE members and supporters yesterday to announce the beginning of a Back-to-School boycott of American Eagle Outfitters near the retailer’s Union Square store. The rally coincided with American Eagle’s annual shareholder meeting in 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 outside American Eagle Outfitters stores.
American Eagle outsources its Canadian distribution operations to National Logistics Services (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.
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.
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.