Twenty-one protesters against the selling of The North Face products were arrested at a REI store last week in Rockville, Md. The protest was organized by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) as part of a national “day of action” that involved protests at more than 30 REI stores around the U.S.
According to the Washington Post, the group was fighting against REI’s refusal to end its partnership with The North Face, which they argue have negative labor practices. USAS is also encouraging the outdoor retailer to end a contract with The North Face’s parent company, VF Corp., because it has not signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.
The Accord is an independent agreement designed to make garment factories in Bangladesh safe workplaces. It includes independent safety inspections at factories and public reporting of the results of these inspections. More than 150 apparel companies have signed on the Accord including, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Abercrombie & Fitch.
VF Corp., however, is a founding member of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, an organization of North American apparel companies that is dedicated to improving the safety of workers in Bangladesh as well.
VF spokesman Craig Hodges wrote in an e-mail to the Washington Post, “It’s unfortunate that USAS has made REI the latest target in their campaign to spread misinformation.” He added, “VF and The North Face are deeply committed to the safety of the people making our products around the world, as demonstrated by the financial resources we’ve invested and the actions we’ve taken to continually improve working conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh.”
The arrested protesters were released from the Rockville city police station about an hour after the incident and now face a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.