Promotion of Brand Names
of companies with questionable reputations

I was recently asked in a discussion on the 'comments' section what it would take for me to find a certain brand, namely Abercrombie and Fitch (though this could apply to any brand), objectionable enough for me to stop shopping there or promoting the brand by other means. This was in context of allegations that A&F stores sold clothing that may have been manufactured under "sweatshop" conditions, and that some or many of its stores might engage in discriminatory hiring practices.

(note: regarding the promotion of the Abercrombie brand by my Blogger nickname, please read my "About the 'Hot Abercrombie Chick!' Name" post for clarification.)

In reponse, I have to say that I would not find it inappropriate to support a certain brand name by buying its products or expressing my liking of those products unless I found that either the official company policy supported a practice or belief I found highly objectionable, or that actions of the company itself made it hard to deny that the company implicitly supported those practices or beliefs. So if, as in the Abercrombie example, a company had an official non-discrimination policy that was violated at the level of individual stores, with the choices to violate that policy being made by individuals acting of their own accord rather than under direction of the company, I would not feel that it would be accurate to attribute a support of discrimination to the company itself.

I find this issue somewhat analogous to the issue of child molestation within the Roman Catholic church. As most people know, there have been many incidents of molestation by priests. Some, even many, of these priests seem to have been sheltered, their crimes hidden, by their immediate superiors. I doubt that many people would deny, however, that the Church's official policy and beliefs are deeply and directly opposed to child molestation, and the protection of guilty priests. And I also doubt that many people would claim that a person claiming Catholicism as their religion is also endorsing child molestation--we generally understand that the aberrant behavior of individuals in an organization does not define the beliefs of that organization, even when that behavior is widespread.

I think that the same argument can be applied to the Abercrombie and Fitch case. Although the practices of those people responsible for hiring at a number of stores might rightly be called discriminatory, this does not mean that the company wishes for such hiring practices to be the norm. I am less familiar with the issues around Abercrombie's manufacturing processes, though I think that a similar argument could probably be made.

At any rate, America does have a judicial system, and if the company or any of its stores has violated the law and illegally discriminating against an individual due to their ethnicity, it should be the case that the violation could be proven in court. This doesn't necessarily apply to the manufacturing issue because of overseas production, of course. But I do feel that if workers are truly being exploited, endangered, or harmed in factories in other countries, the issue of why the governments of those countries is allowing it to happen is of far greater concern. If you would argue that we ought to respect the autonomy of other countries, you would be hard-pressed to come up with an argument as to why we ought to enforce our principles on manufacturing allowed by the governments of those countries. If, on the other hand, you believe that certain principles of workers' rights must be upheld in any country, governments permitting infringement of these rights would be a more productive target than the companies that own the factories.

I don't mean to say that in this latter case the company could not also be held accountable, though I have not been presented with any overwhelming evidence that Abercrombie engages in any widespread and gross violations of workers' rights. I have of course heard allegations, but those are not always reliable. For evidence I would be looking for the judgement of some impartial body, a court for example, that the company knowingly engaged in such violations.

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