Today teen apparel retailer American Eagle Outfitters launched its back-to-school clothing line at stores across North America. At the same time, UNITE HERE and student groups announced they would step up the “American Vulture” campaign, which calls for a boycott of the company until it enforces its Code of Conduct and prevents worker intimidation at its Canadian distribution contractor. Activists in eight major cities joined workers this week to leaflet at highly visible downtown American Eagle locations.
“The response to this boycott has been tremendous,” said Alex Dagg, Canadian Co-Director of UNITE HERE. “Young people truly care about the rights of workers and are demonstrating that by taking their business away from American Eagle Outfitters this summer.”
Student groups including United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), and several Toronto-area student unions have already joined with UNITE HERE in support of the American Vulture back-to-school boycott.
“As students and consumers, we are angry that a company like American Eagle would betray its own values,” said Hamid Osman, president of the York Federation of Students, representing over 45,000 students. “We are spreading the word to students everywhere to boycott American Eagle until the company does the right thing and respects workers rights at NLS.”
Leaflets call on customers to boycott American Eagle and inform them of the labor dispute at National Logistics Services (NLS), AEO’s Canadian distribution contractor. Earlier this year, NLS workers applied to join UNITE HERE in order to improve poor working conditions. They had not received raises in two to three years, lacked a fair process to move into permanent employment, dealt with daily disrespect from management, and faced unfair policy changes, like increased hours before overtime is paid. NLS management then carried out an intense anti-union campaign, hiring a US-based labor relations firm that arranged daily two-hour anti-union meetings, hung huge "vote no" posters in the workplace, and mailed an anti-union DVD to workers’ homes.
The campaign calling for the boycott of the apparel chain, which was announced June 12, has since gained momentum through a North America-wide online campaign. UNITE HERE is undertaking extensive online outreach and viral counter-marketing directed at American Eagle customers, tapping into youth-oriented sites including YouTube and the hugely popular social networking sites Facebook and MySpace.
Thus far the online boycott petition, which can be viewed at www.americanvulture.org has garnered several thousand signatures, and hundreds more have signed boycott cards at events held across North America. Most recently, campaign organizers reached out to thousands of student activists at the country’s largest conference of progressive activists, the U.S. Social Forum, held last month in Atlanta.