11 Dec

How Ethical is Urban Outfitters?

American fashion chain Urban Outfitters have made a name for themselves with their on-trend and affordable clothing aimed at young adults. Affectionately referring to their customer base as ‘metropolitan hipsters’, they pull consumers in with their carefully curated, Insta-worthy image. But are their ethics as shiny as their brand persona?

Owned by retail-industry giant, URBN – who also own Anthropologie and Free People – Urban Outfitters have over 200 stores across the United States Canada and Europe. However, as one of North America’s top retailers, it is easy for consumers to be swept up in the hype of the brand, rather than reflect upon their commitment to sustainability and ethical practice. So, how do Urban Outfitters rate on the Good On You app in terms of environmental sustainability, labor rights and animal welfare? We’ll break it down for you!

Environmental Impact: Not Good Enough

While Urban Outfitters carry a line of vintage and upcycled products called Urban Renewal – they use very few eco-friendly materials in their main collections. Urban Outfitters have made no commitment to reduce their indirect or direct greenhouse gas emissions, although they have take some steps to lower their carbon footprint. There is also no evidence that they are minimizing or eliminating hazardous chemicals across their supply chain. They have also failed to produce adequate policies to address water usage and wastewater management.

Labor Conditions: Not Good Enough

Urban Outfitters are proud of their UO Community Cares initiative where employees and customers are encouraged to give back to their local community. But how much do they truly care about workers across their supply chain? In their response to the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, Urban Outfitters briefly outline some of their labor policies, including their third-party auditing processes and commitment to not use child or slave labor.

There is, however, very little evidence to support any of these claims. We’d like to know for example, how often their factories are audited, which parts of their supply chain are audited and who their suppliers are and where they’re located!

Despite having a policy stating that Urban Outfitter do “…not knowingly carry products that use cotton originating from Uzbekistan”, in 2014 they received the lowest score possible on a survey conducted by the Responsible Sourcing Network that measured action taken by brands to ensure cotton originating from Uzbekistan was not used in their products. There is also no evidence that Urban Outfitters supply their workers with a living wage. No stranger to controversy, in 2015 Urban Outfitters was caught up in a labor rights scandal where employees were asked to work for free over the weekend in the guise of a ‘training day’.

Animal Welfare: It’s a Start 

Urban Outfitters do not use fur, down, angora or exotic animal hair or skin, which is a good start! They do, however, use leather and wool from unspecified sources. This is problematic because the welfare of both the animals and the workers cannot be guaranteed.

Overall Rating: Not Good Enough

Rated: Not Good Enough

Urban Outfitters are doing very little to help the environment, their workers, or animals. There is no evidence that their policies regarding labour and transparency in the supply chain are actually undertaken.

Despite the fact that their collections are often designed to appeal to open-minded and progressive young people, Urban Outfitters has a long way to go before it can be considered a sustainable and ethical brand. As a major retailer worth billions of dollars, they could definitely do so much more to differentiate themselves for the better.

Next time you’re looking for that new piece for your wardrobe, why not check out some of these ethical brands that are rated ‘Good’ or ‘Great’ on the Good On You app!

Editor's note: Feature image via Urban Outfitters. Additional images via the brands mentioned.

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