American Eagle is a go-to destination for affordable and on-trend jeans and casual wear for young people with over 1000 stores worldwide. We take a look at how the brand rates in terms of environmental impact, labour conditions, and animal welfare. We ask—how ethical is American Eagle?
On the surface, American Eagle seems to be dedicated to sustainability. In practice, however, it appears to be doing very little to reduce its environmental impact. While it has set an absolute target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated from its own operations and supply chain, there is no evidence it is on track to meet its target.
There is also no evidence that American Eagle is taking adequate steps to minimise or eliminate hazardous chemicals in its supply chain. This is problematic, not just for the environment, but for the brand’s workers as well! While it does measure and report on its water usage and wastewater management, it has not set any specific targets. American Eagle also lacks adequate policies and initiatives for resource management and disposal, and uses few eco-friendly materials.
American Eagle outlines a number of sustainability strategies including the recycling of paper in its corporate offices, and the establishment of permanent I:CO recycling centres in over 823 stores across North America. As positive as these initiatives are, there is still a long way for American Eagle to go before it can consider itself sustainable! For these reasons we have given the brand a score of ‘Not Good Enough’ for the planet.
American Eagle is really lagging behind for people, too, with a score of ‘Not Good Enough’. There is no evidence that it provides its workers with a crucial living wage. It also sources from countries with high or extreme risk of labour abuse, however it has attempted to address these risks by signing the Bangladesh Building and Fire Safety Accord, and participating in the Business for Social Responsibility network. Despite this, it received a very low score of 11-20% in the Fashion Transparency Index, as none of its supply chain is certified by labour standards which ensure worker health and safety, living wages, or other labour rights. It also does not disclose any policies or safeguards to protect suppliers and workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19!
To make matters worse, in the past American Eagle has been linked to a number of scandals, including an incident in 2015 involving the dangerous use of sandblasting in a Chinese factory, as well as a leaked video in 2011 of a Chinese factory used by a number of American retailers including American Eagle that showed workers being subjected to poor conditions. In response to the sandblasting incident, American Eagle banned the presence of sandblasting equipment in any facility producing its clothing.
American Eagle is ‘Not Good Enough’ for the animals, either. It has a general statement about minimising animal suffering but not a formal animal welfare policy. It states that it sources wool from non-mulesed sheep, which is good, but it uses leather, down, and exotic animal hair without stating its sources. While it doesn’t use angora, fur, or exotic animal skin, there is no evidence it traces any animal products to the first stage of production. This is problematic as the welfare of the animals and workers can’t be guaranteed.
Overall Rating: Not Good Enough
While its greenhouse gas reduction target and recycling programs are a good first step, ultimately American Eagle appears more interested in talking the talk rather than walking the walk. Being more transparent about its environmental policies and labour conditions, paying a living wage to its workers, and using more eco-friendly materials in its products would be great places to start. At the end of the day, American Eagle follows a fast fashion model, promoting quantity over quality, which is inherently unsustainable. Note that Good On You ratings consider 100s of issues and it is not possible to list every relevant issue in a summary of the brand’s performance. For more information see our How We Rate page and our FAQs.
Luckily there are ‘Good’ and ‘Great’ brands out there with higher quality, ethically and sustainably made clothes for you to rock.
Ethical alternatives to American Eagle