26 January 2010

tossing clothes

I came across something in the news recently that was rather shocking. There have been reports of Swedish clothing mega-chain H&M and American chain Wal-Mart are throwing away their unused clothing. Not just throwing them away, destroying them and then throwing them away. This story was covered in the New York Times and it is unsure whether it is the common practice of all H&M stores or just this one store on Manhattan Sixth Avenue.

On the H&M corporate responsibility website of course, there are claims that all unwanted clothes are donated to the needy. This however has its own consequences, the chief among which is that unwanted clothes affect local industries in the country in which they are donated. Although the intentions are good, the negative ramification include increased dependence of the West and downward spiral of the local economy.

In a follow up to the article, there has been another one run the next day with spokespersons from both companies claiming that "it will not happen again" and that the standard practice was to donate unwanted clothing to needy causes. The evidence pointed out in the NY Times article however is completely different. I'm only writing about this to high-light the vagaries in corporate social responsibility. CSR at the end of the day is a document of best practices followed by a company; it is a piece to paper that makes it looks like it is the greenest, cleanest, most ethical enterprise there is, which they well be. However, when even one store in a chain drops the ball, it leaves people wondering about the whole picture.

H&M is a favourite with many people that now needs some serious damage control if it wants to remain so.

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