How Ethical is American Eagle Outfitters? - Good On You
08 Jan

How Ethical Is American Eagle?

NOTE: As of July 2020 this brand has an updated rating in the Directory which you can check here for the latest info. This article will be updated soon to reflect any changes in scoring.

American Eagle is a go-to destination for affordable and on-trend jeans and casual wear with 949 stores worldwide.  We take a look at how they rate in terms of their environmental impact, labor rights and their stance on animal welfare.


On the surface, American Eagle seem to be dedicated to sustainability. In practice, however, they appear to be doing very little to reduce their environmental impact. Though they’ve made a public commitment to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by the end of 2017, there is no evidence that any meaningful action has actually been taken to meet this target. American Eagle do measure and report on their direct and indirect emissions, but not for their entire supply chain.

There is also no evidence that American Eagle are taking adequate steps to minimise or eliminate hazardous chemicals in their supply chain. This is problematic, not just for the environment, but for the brand’s workers as well!  While they do measure and report on their water usage and wastewater management, they have not set any specific targets. American Eagle also lacks adequate policies and initiatives for resource management and disposal.

American Eagle outline a number sustainability strategies in their Better World report, including the recycling of paper in their 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 they can consider themselves sustainable!


American Eagle cover most workers’ rights principles in their Supplier Code of Conduct, however there is no evidence that they provide their workers with a living wage. They also source from countries with high or extreme risk of labor abuse, however they’ve attempted to address these risks by signing the Bangladesh Building and Fire Safety Accord, and participating in the Better Cotton Initiative and the Business for Social Responsibility network. American Eagle traces and independently audits parts of their supply chain and publicly lists the countries of their suppliers, however they don’t share a list of who their suppliers are.

In the past American Eagle have 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 that workers were being subjected to poor conditions. In response to the sandblasting incident, American Eagle banned the presence of sandblasting equipment in any facility producing their clothing.


American Eagle does not use fur, angora, down or exotic animal hair or skins. They also state that they use wool from non-mulesed sheep. This is definitely a step in the right direction. They still, however, use leather without stating their sources. This is problematic as the welfare of the animals and workers can’t be guaranteed.

Overall Rating: Not Good Enough

While their greenhouse gas reduction target and recycling programs are commendable, ultimately American Eagle appears more interested in talking the talk rather than walking the walk. Being more transparent about their environmental policies and labour conditions, paying a living wage to their workers and using more eco-friendly materials in their 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.

Good Swaps

Here are some ethical brands that deserve your support instead.

Outland Denim

Rated: Great

Outland Denim makes premium denim jeans and offers ethical employment opportunities for women rescued from human trafficking in Cambodia.

See the rating.

Shop Outland Denim.

Seek Collective

Rated: Good

Seek Collective is a line of elevated essentials inspired by the global woman blended with art, craft, and design.

See the rating.

Shop Seek Collective.


Rated: Good
A man with a tan-coloured hooded coat looks at the camera.

Thanks to recycled materials like rescued ocean plastic, Ecoalf creates sustainable fashion with the same quality, design, and technical properties as the best non-recycled ones.

See the rating.

Shop Ecoalf @ Farfetch.


Rated: Good

LA-based Reformation creates killer clothes that don’t kill the environment. The brand also ensures that a large proportion of its suppliers pay a living wage. Go Reformation!

See the rating.

Shop Reformation @ Farfetch.

Shop Reformation.

Editor's note

Feature image via American Eagle, all other images via the brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world's most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use the Directory to search more than 2,500 brands. To support our work, we may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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