Monday, 17 March 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Fruit of the Loom (& Screen Stars)

Fruit of the Loom is an example of a 'vertically integrated' company - it manufactures its own cloth and uses it to create a range of garments that are well known to the general public - most people in the UK will at some time have worn Fruit of the Loom promotional clothing - especially their t-shirts.

Fruit of the Loom also make and supply promotional t-shirts under the brand name 'Screen Stars' - so this article also covers that brand.

Fruit of the Loom is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Corporation which itself is controlled by Warren Buffett, the richest person in the world but also one of the world's greatest philanthopists, teaming up with Bill Gates in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to donate mountains of cash to global health and development. With this background you may expect strong ethics as regards trading with the developing world but also you'd also expect Fruit of the Loom management largely to be able to get on with managing the company without interference from above.

There is a fair amount of "buzz" about Fruit of the Loom being an anti-union company. There's an article on the Clean Clothes website focussing on closures in the USA and Ireland and conditions in Morocco for its workers. That dates back to 2001 but provides some historical context. It's close to a time when Fruit of the Loom went through administration leading to acquisition by Berkshire Hathaway and restructuring.

Looking through the Fruit of the Loom website it's actually difficult to find anything at all dealing with ethics and the supply chain. In its latest 'green' e-catalogue online brochure there is a hint of things being better now than in 2001. The company talks of a new "state of the art facility" in Morocco. "We've worked closely with the Moroccan government to ensure that the factory benefits the local people as much as our customers. You can rely on us for.... .... ethical responsibility."

I took a look at Berkshire Hathaways "Code of Business Conduct and Ethics". The word "union" does not feature and there is nothing regarding global considerations. A rather stuffy document but it does have high minded ideals even if it all seems a little remote from a worker in Africa. However I was able to dig up on the website of International Textile Garment and Leather Workers Federation the Contractor Code of Conduct to be signed by any contractor that includes the requirement that Contractors must not engage in "unfair labor, wage or benefits practice or practices violative of the laws or regulations of the country of manufacture or assembly of products or involving unsanitary, unhealthy and/or unsafe labor conditions, the employment of child, forced, indentured, involuntary, prison or uncompensated labor, the use of corporal punishment, discrimination based on race, gender, national origin or religious beliefs, or similar employment activities or conditions".

I certainly got the impression that this is not a company where executives are running around trying to put on a glossy ethical facade - but also the difficulty that I have had finding anything other than a commentary on anti-union stance seems to point to a company that treats its employees and trading partners reasonably well.

If you can help me out on ethical issues and Fruit of the Loom then please leave a comment.


  1. Hi Scott, you might find this site useful for clarification on what happened in 2001 - found it through google but it might have more weighting than the article you have already because its from the ILO website:

  2. Hi again, I have also found information about similar recent violations in Honduras (very similar to what happened to Gildan). It looks like Fruit of the Loom are closing factories due to the economic pressure and probably because they are moving a lot of their production to Morocco but the factories they are choosing to close are only ones that are unionised - the only ones left in there are ones that do not have unions:

  3. Thanks for the info - the report at least shows the higher echelons making some efforts at putting things right after having been caught out at a local level.

    (Readers may wish to also read the follow up of 17 February...)