The Facts

The Corporate Cronies

  • Recreational Equipment, Inc (REI) is a privately-owned, multi-billion dollar outdoor retailer
    • REI CEO Jerry Stritzke is a former apparel exec, and CFO Eric Artz spent 18 years working at The North Face/VF Corporation.
    • Although REI claims “the proper treatment of workers is a key tenet” of their practices, they continue to do business with The North Face/VF Corporation, notorious sweatshop abusers.
  • VF Corporation is the largest maker of branded apparel in the world.
    • Parent company of 36 brands, including North Face, Vans, Timberland, JanSport, VF Imagewear, Wrangler, Lee, and Nautica.
    • Contracts with 90 factories in Bangladesh, employing over 190,000 garment workers in that country alone.
    • In 2013, VF Corporation brought in $11.4 billion in revenue and $5.48 billion in gross profit.
    • CEO Eric Wiseman received $14.2 million in compensation.

Worker Safety in Bangladesh

  • VF was producing at That’s It Sportswear factory in Bangladesh (owned by Hameem Group), which burned in December of 2010, killing 29 workers and injuring more than a hundred. The factory had illegal construction, no proper fire exits, shoddy wiring, and many exit doors were locked. Workers were trapped on the top floors of the factory. Many jumped to their deaths. VF had repeatedly inspected the factory and yet had completely failed to address the safety hazards.
  • In October of 2012, another VF factory, Eurotex, which was disclosed as a producer of collegiate apparel, burned in Dhaka. This was a major fire, though it did not completely destroy the factory. No one was killed in the fire, because the factory was closed for a holiday – if the fire had occurred during the workday, many could have died. When contacted about this fire, VF claimed that their own disclosure data was wrong and they had stopped using the factory.
  • On June 20, 2014, several workers were injured during a fire at Medlar Apparels, a factory that has supplied VF apparel as far back as 2007, according to customs data. This fire occurred after VF claimed to numerous U.S. universities that it had “completed 100% of inspections at Bangladeshi factories where VF product is sourced.”
  • Despite its sizeable presence in Bangladesh and evidence of mishandling of safety hazards in its factories, VF Corporation has refused to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord, a legally-binding agreement between brands and unions – now signed by more than 150 brands and retailers – that holds the promise of bringing an end to the mass fatality disasters in Bangladesh garment factories.
  • Rather than signing the Accord, VF has joined forces with Walmart and the Gap to create a corporate-controlled, non-binding agreement called the “Alliance for Worker Safety.” Unions and labor rights advocates have critiqued this program for its exclusion of workers and their representatives and its failure to obligate brands to pay a single cent toward the repair and renovation of unsafe factories.

Sweatshop Abuses Across the Globe

  • In July 2010, union leaders and workers at E Garment, a supplier of collegiate apparel for VF, were violently attacked by thugs in collusion with factory management. Yet despite repeated requests to intervene, VF did not take action until after the same thugs staged another brutal attack on union leaders in February 2013.
  • In February 2012, the Hawkins Apparel factory in Honduras, which produced apparel for VF Corporation and Jerry Leigh, closed without paying workers approximately $300,000 in legally-owed severance benefits. After the factory closure, other buyers from the factory contributed $250,000 to help these workers, while VF Corporation refused to pay a single cent to assist them.
  • The North Face/VF contracts with several factories in Cambodia where, at the end of 2013, hundreds of thousands of Cambodian garment workers went on strike to demand a minimum wage of $160 per month – the amount a govern ment panel found to be the bare minimum required to meet a worker’s basic needs. Responding to calls from factory owners to put down these protests, the country’s military violently intervened, killing four workers, hospitalizing dozens more and jailing 23 others for months. This violent response could have been prevented had VF and other major brands ensured that their contractors agree pay workers a wage that meets their basic needs.

Why REI?

  • REI is one of the largest carriers of The North Face in the U.S.
  • The REI co-op was founded on the principle that it would never use sweatshop labor, by doing business with the North Face it is breaking this promise.
  • By operating unsafe factories, The North Face is violating REI’s own supplier code of conduct which states that the company will only “use vendor and manufacturing partners that provide their workers with a safe and healthy work environment.”
  • REI has refused to meet with students or REI members to discuss their concerns about The North Face sweatshops.

Students and Workers Are Fighting Back

  • Students have successfully pressured 16 universities – Arizona State University, American University, Boston University, Cornell University, Emerson College, Macalester College, NYU, Oberlin, Penn State, Rutgers University, Syracuse University, University of Florida, University of Illinois-Chicago, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Washington State University – to cut ties with VF Corporation over their refusal to sign the Accord.
  • Students and REI members have been campaigning to get REI to drop The North Face since the start of June 2014. They have held demonstrations at REI stores across the country, flooded REI’s twitter page with comments, and gathered petition signatures from hundreds of concerns REI members.
  • Four of the leading garment workers unions and labor rights organizations in Bangladesh have written directly to REI demanding that the company cut ties with The North Face/VF.