Social Irresponsibility: H & M and Wal-mart mutilate unsold clothes

January 8, 2010

In times when people are in need, corporate waste becomes an even bigger example of corporate irresponsibility.  In January of 2010, the story broke that clothier H&M (a Swedish company) and Wal-Mart stores in New York City were mutilating unsold clothes then throwing them away.  The clothes were mutilated to prevent someone from finding the trash and reselling the items.  It also prevent those in need from receiving donations.  The discovery was made by graduate student Cynthia Magnus who was looking through the trash from an H&M and a nearby Wal-Mart on 35th street in New York City near Herald Square.  The bags were in plain site as she walked by on her way to a subway stop.  Here are the initial responses:

“A Wal-Mart spokeswoman, Melissa Hill, said the company normally donates all its unworn goods to charities, and would have to investigate why the items found on 35th Street were discarded.”

“This week, a manager in the H & M store on 34th Street said inquiries about its disposal practices had to be made to its United States headquarters. However, various officials did not respond to 10 inquiries made Tuesday by phone and e-mail.”

This post will focus on H&M because they make a point in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) writings about how they donate unused clothes to charity.  Oddly, just around the corner from the new York City store is a collection point for New York Cares which does collect clothes, especially coats, for those in need. The problem is intensified because of H&M’s supposed commitment to help others with unsold clothes.  Here are some of H&M’s statements about donating clothes:

“H&M donates clothes to charity

H&M is committed to taking responsibility for how our operations affect people and the environment. We donate garments that do not meet our quality requirements to organisations such as UNHCR, Caritas, the Red Cross and Helping Hands. When possible, we also donate faulty garments that have been returned to our stores. However, we do not donate clothes that do not meet our safety requirements, chemical restrictions or are damaged. We have agreements with reputable aid organisations in most of our sales countries. In total, more than 500,000 pieces of H&M garments were donated during 2009.

We are currently looking into if we can further improve our routines.”

“Gifts in kind International

H&M’s US sales operation donates thousands of garments from its corporate facilities through Gifts In Kind International, a nonprofit organization that distributes products to community services groups that are improving the lives of people in need.

In order to be eligible to receive H&M product donations through Gifts In Kind, your organization must have 501(c) (3) status and offer programs or services that enhance education, promote healthy living, provide opportunities for women and children to reach their maximum potential or work to improve the environment.

If your organization meets these guidelines, the next step is to register with Gifts In Kind International — either directly or through a local Gifts In Kind® program located in any one of the more than 300 communities they serve around the United States.

For more information, please go to:

So the idea that H&M donates clothes to charity is not a one-time statement, but an integral part of its CSR discourse.  People expressed their anger on blogs and at the company’s Facebook site.  Here are some comments from the Facebook site:

Eva Ramey Swontek Whoever
made the decision to destroy these clothes instead of donating should
be fired! Perhaps a few months of unemployment and knowing 1st hand the
need for chairitable organizations would be a good lesson.
Irresponsible at it’s definition H&M . . . I would expect better
from your company.

Sheryl Johnston So dissapointed in you. Couldn’t you guys donate the items? This is greed of the worst kind. How low can you go?!!!! will certainly not shop there again!!!!

Anja Gesell I find this an OUTRAGE!!! Considering that we have so many less fortunate persons in our worlds society. Those clothes could have been put to better use. I will boykott H&M in germany, period. EVEN I GIVE MY CLOTHES AWAY TO LESS FORTUNATE and I dont own a multimillion Store possibility, to make a difference –

H&M became more responsive as the reactions reached corporate ears.  However, as the story broke, there was no statement at its US web site.  However, here is an example of their response as reported in the news media:

“H&M spokeswoman Nicole Christie said: ‘It will not happen again.’

She said company policy is to donate unworn clothes and did not know why this store was instead cutting them up and throwing them out.

The company said that it gave half a million pieces of clothes to charity last year, but that not all items qualified. ‘We do not donate clothes that do not meet our safety requirements, chemical restrictions or are damaged,’ it said in a statement. ‘We are currently looking into if we can further improve our routines.’”

The situation is not a crisis, it is more of a para-crisis.  A negative situation is developing that warrants a strategic response (para-crisis) but we would not need to assemble the crisis team.  Acting counter to one’s stated CSR values is a problem that cannot be ignored.

Questions to Consider

  1.  How would you recommend H&M respond to this para-crisis?
  2. What role is social media playing in the situation and how might H&M us it to their advantage?
  3. Why is it so troubling that H&M seems to be violating its own CSR practices?
  4. In general, what makes the actions taken by H&M and Wal-mart so upsetting to people?
  5. Will people react differently to Wal-mart’s actions?  Why or why not?
  6. Culturally, how do Sweden and the US differ in terms of valuing CSR?

Pumpkin Shortage: Para-crises still need attention

December 9, 2009

I have to admit up front that I grew up loving pumpkin pie.  It is safe to say I have nieces and nephews who are addicted.  If my mother does not make pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas there is no consoling them.  So when news broke in 2009 of a possible shortage, in my family that would be a crisis.  But for Nestle (corporation) and Libby’s (the brand) it is what we can call a para-crisis.  Para can mean like or resembling or subsidiary to.  A para-crisis resembles a crisis but is subsidiary to a true crisis.  You will not assemble the crisis management team for a para-crisis but it does demand some attention and a strategic response from the organization.  Para-crises threaten reputational assets without the potential to disrupt product and/or harm stakeholders.  The reputational threat means that the various crisis communication theories oriented towards reputational concerns play well with para-crises.

The pumpkin pie shortage is a result of two straight years of wet weather that limited the pumpkin crop.  Libby’s represented 80% to 90% of the canned pumpkin market  That is domination of a market.  Most pie makers do use canned so there is the tie to pumpkin pies.  Here is how Libby’s  (Nestle) explained the situation:

Mother Nature has been fickle this year!

Due to poor weather conditions, the pumpkin harvest is smaller than we expected so it may be hard to find LIBBY’S Pumpkin this holiday season. The heavy rains throughout the harvest have made it nearly impossible to pick our pumpkins. That’s because tractors and other equipment are not able to move through the saturated fields.

At LIBBY’S, we’re proud of our quality and we know that you trust us to deliver the best. The longer the pumpkins sit in these muddy fields, the more likely it is the quality of the pumpkin has declined. So we’ve made the difficult decision that we will not pack any more pumpkin this year which means that through the holiday season and until next fall’s harvest, LIBBY’S pumpkin will be hard to find.

Last year’s harvest was a wet one too, so we planted more acres this year, hoping to can more pumpkin. Early in the harvest, it looked like we would have plenty of pumpkin, but Mother Nature had other plans for us. We hope she’s better to us next season, giving us a little less rain and a lot more sunshine because we are already planning to plant even more acres of pumpkins. This way everyone can enjoy as many delicious pumpkin dishes as they want!

Don’t let this news dampen your holiday spirits. If you can’t find LIBBY’S this year, we would like to suggest some delicious alternatives that offer a sweet ending to your Thanksgiving meal.  If you go to the link there is an effective video showing the fields and discussing the problems. 

Oddly, Nestle was working to prevent a shortage.  In 2008, rains hurt the crops but there was enough to get by but not much slack for 2009.  So, Nestle, who controls 85% of the pumpkin crop fields, increased planting to help offset the poor 2008 crop.  So they were thinking ahead but you cannot control the weather,0,5196858.story?track=rss

Of course there is a bright side for others who sell pumpkins, better sales, especially organic pumpkin farmers.  But most customers need the can rather than fresh pumpkins so the shortage possibility exists.  Many grocery chains had signs warning customers pumpkin filing might be hard to find.  Reports seem to indicate that Thanksgiving was oaky but now the fears turn to Christmas.  Will there be enough for the second feast of the holidays?,0,7049581.story

Questions to Consider

  1.  If we consider this a crisis, what type of crisis would it be?  Justify your selection of a crisis type.
  2. What value is there in Libby talking about how it was prepared to cover the problems of 2008 by increasing its planting in 2009?
  3. What crisis response strategies were Libby’s using?  Justify your selection of a crisis type.
  4. How effective would you say Libby’s para-crisis response was?  What is the rationale for your judgment?
  5. Does this para-crisis create any need for instructing and/or adjusting information?
  6. What else could Libby’s have done to help manage this para-crisis?

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