Over the years, we've learned that we cannot hope to drive sustainable, positive change in the world's garment factories unless we partner with others in our industry, civil society, and governments to leverage our efforts and address problems together. To that end, we work with human rights and labor leaders, civil society organizations, and government officials on issues of mutual concern on an ongoing basis.
In 2009, we signed the International Buyers Principles of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Better Work program. Today, we are an active participant in the ILO Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) and Better Work programs in Vietnam, Haiti, and Indonesia. As of the fall of 2010, we had encouraged more factories to join the Better Work program than all but one other participating company. We look forward to the continued expansion of Better Work to additional countries.
In 2010, AEO, Inc. became a Participating Company in the Fair Labor Association. The FLA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending poor conditions in factories worldwide. As a member of the FLA, we are subject to Independent External Monitoring (IEM) by FLA-accredited monitors, a process that provides an additional level of public verification and accountability to our program. The FLA discloses the results of IEMs conducted for participating companies on its website. We look forward to working with the many stakeholders of the FLA to help protect workers' rights and continue to improve working conditions worldwide.
"As a Participating Company in the Fair Labor Association, AEO has demonstrated a commitment to improving working conditions worldwide. Involving brands in multi-stakeholder efforts such as the FLA will drive long-lasting change for the industry as a whole, strengthening social compliance programs and protecting workers throughout the global supply chain."
- Auret Van Heerden, President, Fair Labor Association
We participate actively in the Multi-Fiber Arrangement (MFA) Forum Americas Working Group, a group of several brands and retailers as well as trade unions, including the International Textile Garment and Leather Workers Federation (ITGLWF), and civil society organizations such as the Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) to address a range of compliance issues in Mexico and Central America, including workers' right to freedom of association.
"The Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) has been engaging with American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) about worker rights issues since 2006. In a number of cases, AEO has responded to requests from MSN by joining with other brands in calling on shared suppliers to respect workers' associational rights and on governments to put a stop to violence and repression against workers and labour rights defenders. AEO has also joined with other companies and labour and non-governmental organizations, including MSN, in multi-stakeholder initiatives like the MFA Forum, which promoted responsible competitiveness strategies in garment producing countries immediately after the phase out of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement. In Mexico, one focus of the committee's work has been on how to address systemic violations of freedom of association.
To build on this good record, AEO must devote sufficient resources to addressing critical supply chain issues, including issues such poverty wages, precarious work and the general lack of respect for freedom of association in global supply chains. We also hope AEO will become more transparent on the locations of its supplier factories and the steps it is taking to improve its purchasing practices and to ensure that its sourcing decisions benefit, rather than victimize, workers and good suppliers."
- Lynda Yanz, Coordinator, Maquila Solidarity Network
In 2008, a group of socially responsible investors and civil society organizations brought to our attention the practice of forced child labor in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan. Deeply disturbed by the images we saw and reports we heard, we adopted a policy in June 2008 banning the use of cotton from Uzbekistan in all products manufactured for American Eagle Outfitters, Inc. Since that time, we have been active participants in the multi-stakeholder Responsible Cotton Network, which is a joint initiative of several brands, investors, non-governmental organizations, and trade unions. Under this umbrella, we have engaged with government officials in both the US and Uzbekistan in an effort to convince the Government of Uzbekistan to put a stop to this unacceptable practice.
AEO believes in standing up for the rights, safety and well-being of the workers who make our products not only in Bangladesh but across our entire supply chain. We have a long history of conscious and ethical sourcing starting in 2001 with the formation of our Compliance Team.
Since 2001, AEO has implemented an actionable plan for our entire supply chain that includes frequent internal and independent third-party (see above for Fair Labor Association information) audits of all our apparel factories focusing on health and safety, fair labor standards, and working conditions. Although the recent Bangladesh tragedies have not occurred in any AEO factories, they have demonstrated to us a real need that even stronger preventative and collaborative actions should be taken. To that effect, since January of 2013, AEO put in place a four-part action plan to 1.) increase the number of factory visits, 2.) conduct fire safety training, 3.) implement building structure reviews and 4.) put a team on the ground in Bangladesh to carry out these actions. We have been implementing these steps to ensure our long record of safety remains unbroken.
Additionally, in July of 2013, AEO signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, aligning with nearly 70 brands, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and trade unions, to improve workplace safety in Bangladesh. The International Labor Organization (ILO), an organization that gives equal voice to workers, employers and unions, is Chair of the Steering Committee of the Accord. AEO is already engaged with the ILO on Better Work programs in Cambodia, Haiti, Indonesia and Vietnam. This initiative is a five-year program that will establish in-factory training; facilitate the creation of factory health and safety committees; review existing building regulations and enforcement; develop a worker complaint process and mechanism for workers to report health and safety risks; and establish a lead Safety Inspector.
By aligning with our industry partners and continuing to improve our existing robust compliance programs, we can help make the changes necessary to create a better world for all of us.
In early 2011, American Eagle Outfitters, Inc. decided to join other leading companies in our industry to eliminate sandblasting from our denim manufacturing process.
Sandblasting is a common technique used to create the "worn" look of jeans. Sandblasting involves high-pressure spraying of abrasive material on denim fabric. During the sandblasting process, factory workers must wear highly specialized equipment to protect themselves from potentially serious health effects that can result from exposure to silica, a component found in sand. Sandblasting can be done safely, but proper health and safety precautions must be rigorously maintained. Unfortunately, despite extensive oversight by many companies - including American Eagle Outfitters, Inc. - to ensure that all workers have access to and use proper equipment, we have been unable to ensure compliance in all cases.
Every pair of jeans is unique. Like good red wine, jeans age well. One of the reasons our customers love our denim is because it helps them live their life more comfortably. The good news is that we can use alternative techniques to create the same comfortable jeans without sandblasting. We believe our customers not only want to live their lives comfortably, but also in a better world.
Until we believe that proper controls can be put in place to ensure that sandblasting is done safely, we are no longer developing new denim styles with sandblasting.
"Sumangali" is a Tamil word that means a married woman who lives a fulfilling life with her husband. Unfortunately, in parts of India, it has become the name of schemes used to recruit young women into contractual working arrangements in fabric mills and yarn spinners in exchange for a promised lump sum payment at the end of their contracts. This lump sum is marketed by factories as potential dowry - a practice which remains common in parts of India even though it has been officially prohibited since 1961.
In 2011, several civil society organizations brought to our attention that these women face poor working conditions that include excessive overtime, low wages, and restricted freedom of movement.
We care deeply about the welfare of the people in our supply chain. We immediately initiated an investigation that included on-site assessments of any factories we contract with in the region who might work with yarn spinners or fabric mills practicing this scheme. We also began engaging local NGOs, local governments and industry associations, other brands, and through the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to better understand ongoing efforts and context in the region. As of the date of this report, our investigation is ongoing.