Abercrombie, Bangladesh and the path to profit margins


There are first world problems and third world problems. Differences in the quality of life among the world’s countries often influence the way individuals prioritize these problems. But often, first world society finds itself relying on third world solutions and the retail industry is no exception.

American retailer Abercrombie and Fitch’s approach to clothing is simple. To “cultivate cool,” it overtly resorts to image branding strategies that, by CEO Mike Jefferies’ admission, are considered “exclusionary.” By refusing to sell plus-sized clothing, the firm hopes to foster its niche market, ensuring its survival in a cutthroat industry.

These tactics are not without consequence, and Abercrombie finds itself in the limelight, facing societal scrutiny over the undulating issue of body image. Physical appeal is not exclusive to developed nations, but it is certainly of higher priority which allots us the privilege of preoccupying ourselves with trivialities beyond the realm of necessity, often overlooking how our developed world solutions come at the expense of developing world problems.

Outsourcing, for example, is a cheap, cost-effective policy that is no stranger to the capitalist society, allotting its consumers discounted products by taking advantage of low wage labor abroad.

The Dhaka building collapse in Bangladesh, which claimed the lives of over 1,000 victims, is regarded as the deadliest structural failure in modern history. The dilapidated building housed a diverse collection of businesses, including garment sweatshops that catered to a myriad of western clothing outlets seeking to capitalize on cheap labor and lax regulations to sustain their profitability.

The parallels between Abercrombie’s discriminatory image policy and the outsourcing of low cost inputs lead to one common goal: maximize profit margins. And while the means converge at a unanimous end, failure to prioritize our values when it comes to criticizing unethical business practices can reflect negatively on our society as a whole.

Corporate responsibility to the consumer or worker is a luxury afforded by businesses that can fulfill their obligation to their shareholders. The firm is going to find a way to capitalize on opportunities, whether by exploiting societal trends or taking advantage of low cost labor, but it can only operate within the ethical and moral boundaries established by its consumers.

What is worse? An elitist marketing strategy that looks to promote a trend that some may find “offensive” or a relentless, profit-seeking strategy that undermines even the most basic tenets of human life and dignity to save a couple bucks.

By appraising body image above labor exploitation, American society finds itself at odds with its own founding principles and may soon alienate itself from the developing community which it increasingly depends on to solve its problems.