By: Sarah Tanguay
Forever 21 was founded in 1984 by Do Wong Chang in Los Angeles, California. There are currently stores in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Middle Eastern countries, and Asia. Forever 21 employs over 30,000 people with around 480 stores. It was founded upon the idea of cheap, trendy clothing modeled after designer styles. In 2010 Forever 21 was reported to have a sweatshop in Las Angeles with horrible working conditions for their employees. After the Labor Bureau investigated, Forever 21 was forced to compensate their workers, and were warned to eliminate the sweatshop atmosphere of the factory. Almost three years later conditions have not changed, but Forever 21 continues to grow in popularity and profitability.
If you have ever shopped at Forever 21 you will recall their uniquely designed stores, and you will remember how many articles of clothing you bought for a small amount of money. You may have proceeded to wonder how it is possible for the clothing to be so cheaply priced. As a factory worker in Las Angeles recalls the conditions in which she works under, it is easy to understand how Forever 21 can sell clothes at such low prices. She explains the factory conditions as the following, “The factory is hot. You’re covered in sweat. You are on overtime for a ten-hour shift, but not getting any extra compensation. The most you’ve had to eat has been a measly half of a day-old sandwich and you haven’t had a bathroom break in the past seven hours. Your back hurts from being hunched over a worktable, your hands are cramping but you must continue the stitching. You steal a glance around; decide to take a one-minute break to stretch. Your supervisor happens to sees you, screams for you to continue working, threatening to physically abuse you if you do not.” Forever 21 employs their factory workers in sweatshop conditions, does not fairly compensate them, and abuses them.
Forever 21's treatment of their factory employees can be evaluated based on four ethical theories. The theories are Individualism, Utilitarianism, Kantianism and Virtue.
Individualism is an economic model based off of corporate responsibility, and its main goal is to use resources to achieve maximum profits. The U.S. regulates how many hours a person is required to work, as well as how much they should be paid, and Forever 21 forces employees to work long hours with minimal pay, which is against the law. Therefore according to the Individualistic view Forever 21 is unethical.
Utilitarianism is the belief that business should maximize happiness for the greatest number. Forever 21 did not maximize happiness for the greatest number, The employees are extremely unhappy, the stakeholder were concerned about the risk of the company, and the critics who had discovered the work conditions we appalled. The President of the company was happy with the profits his company was making, but he has no regard for the treatment of his employees. Therefore according to Utilitarianism, Forever 21 was unethical because the majority was unhappy with the company.
Kantianism believes that a person should make sure their actions are coming from the right motivations, as well as acting rationally. Kantianism has four principles which are to act rationally, to allow and help people to make rational decisions, to respect people, their autonomy, and individual needs and differences, and to be motivated by Good Will. According to Kant, Forever 21 is unethical. They consider themselves exempt from having to treat people with respect,do not follow the Labor Laws,do not allow their employees to make rational decisions, not do they not respect their individual needs of their employees. Forever 21 does not treat their employees like human beings, nor do they act upon good will.
Virtue theory looks at the characteristics that allow things to function properly, and is based off of four main business virtues of character, which are courage, honesty, temperance/self control, and justice /fairness. Courage is defined as the willingness to stand for the right ideas and actions. Honesty is the belief that business treats people fairly. Temperance is the idea of having reasonable expectations and desires. Justice is defined as hard work, quality products, good idea and fair prices. Forever 21 does not have a fair process for their factory employees, and they overwork and underpay them. Forever 21 does not meet any of the principles of the four business virtues, and therefore according to the Virtue theory, Forever 21 is unethical.
Forever 21 needs to treat their employees like human beings. Workers need to be fairly compensated, and work a reasonable amount of hours. Forever 21 should be able to ensure their employees they will not have to work under horrible, harsh and abusive conditions. Forever 21 needs to apologize to all of the people they have negatively affected due to their actions, and hey need to promise to make the future better for their employees as well as their company.
Why is Forever 21 continuing to operate a sweatshop factory in Las Angeles? The labor bureau has fined and warned them, and the next step will be to shut them down. There is no way to know when that will happen, or any way to control that. However consumers can control what they buy and the next time you walk into a Forever 21 store I hope you envision the poor factory workers creating your clothing in such horrible conditions with abusive treatment.
This blog is based off of the paper "Forever 21: Forever Unfair" by Sarah Tanguay 2013
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