If you’re under 30 you already know about American Apparel. If not, well, you probably know them best by some of their homemade-looking magazine ads featuring skinny non-models lounging around in underwear (very ambercrombie on heroin). American Apparel is the most successful clothing company in the United States. It has 200 locations worldwide and employs over 10,000 people, 4,500 in downtown L.A. factories alone.
Several years ago I read an interview with the company founder, Dov Charney, just as the company was embarking on their rapid expansion. He came off as quite a pervert, but there was no denying he was a radical and on to something with his socially aware policies. The company has great benefits, a decent hourly wage, tries to protect the environment and is even given a good grade by PETA for their “vegan-friendly” garments” (small miracle to get anything from PETA).
Over the years as American Apparel’s star has continued to rise (for the record I’ve read subsequent articles about Mr. Charnay that indicate he is more eccentric than perverted), it seems they’ve been able to maintain and even expand their socially responsible model.
The company has been so outspoken about human rights they’ve taken on the most controversial issue of all, immigration. Legalize L.A. is their campaign to promote citizenship for the over one million undocumented immigrants living in Los Angeles, and they’ve unabashedly posted billboards all over the country calling for humane reform. An article published yesterday discusses the fact that, despite the obvious benefits to U.S. companies, others in the business community have so far been unwilling to promote immigration reform for fear of reprisals from the anti-immigrant movement and their buddies at Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE).
What the article doesn’t elaborate on, is why some companies, especially those in food production wouldn’t want to push for reform. ICE raids have hit a few meat processing plants particularly hard, but the workers at the plants are the real targets and often the benefits of exploiting undocumented workers outweigh the risks of a raid for these companies. The sad truth is if all U.S. companies valued their workers the way American Apparel does, then they would probably be just as willing to put themselves on the line for reform. The last year has been a shocking indicator to Americans that decision-makers at top U.S. companies are less interested in long-term health and profitability for their shareholders and more concerned about filling their own pockets. What big business doesn’t want us to know is that immigration reform is good for the economy as a whole, but bad for executive’s paychecks.