On August 18, 3,000 full-time employees of Forever 21 were demoted to part-time status with just a few days’ notice. With healthcare slashed and no paid time off, workers speculate that the decision is a response to the Affordable Care Act. Forever 21 staunchly denies this, insisting the cuts are due to projected sales (note: the company made 3.4 billion in revenue last year and the owners are the 70th richest in the world). I’m no expert, but it seems like the backlash from Forever 21 customers vowing to boycott the brand for its inconsiderate treatment of employees will do far more to hurt sales than restoring 3,000 employees to full-time status with benefits. Was it worth all the bad press, Forever 21?
If you still haven’t read the memo sent to employees last week, here it is:
Cutting worker hours and benefits has, unfortunately, become common practice in fast fashion retail and the larger service economy. Victoria’s Secret, for example, misclassifies hundreds of employees as part-time in its New York flagship store to avoid paying benefits. These employees endure fluctuating, unpredictable hours despite working for several years and have no guaranteed minimum hours to support their families or pay rent.
On a side note, last week I participated in a monthly #fashionunfold Twitter chat that touched on this issue. #Fashionunfold chats focus on controversial topics in the fashion industry (e.g.: do celebrity lines hurt emerging designers?). At one point I mentioned it was up to bloggers and emerging designers to shift the practices of the fashion industry and create the changes we wanted to see. Here’s how the conversation went:
— Diane Taha (@stylecontext) August 13, 2013
Like garment workers in Bangladesh and beyond, retail associates in the U.S. face unjust working conditions of their own. The problem is systemic and will require regulatory labor policies. But for now, here’s what you can do to help: sign this petition to restore Forever 21 employees’ benefits and full-time status and let Forever21 know how you feel on their Facebook page and Twitter. Remember, as consumers who are connected to brands through social media, we have the power to vote with our wallets and voices.