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January 10, 2010 3:00 PM   Subscribe

In a story broken by the New York Times, unsold clothes were found in trash bags outside of H&M and Wal-Mart, apparently cut up so as to be unwearable, in a city with 16,000 homeless people currently in the midst of a recession and a very cold winter. posted by emilyd22222 (284 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Destroying unsold merchandise is a pretty standard retail policy and this is probably the least evil thing Wal-Mart has done.
posted by hamida2242 at 3:11 PM on January 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Hmmmm, yeah I don't know hamida. This is pretty evil.
posted by rollbiz at 3:13 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Non sequitur: the fact that everyone does something doesn't make it any less evil.
posted by jock@law at 3:14 PM on January 10, 2010 [31 favorites]


Thanks for this Emily - it wouldn't ever occur to me that stores would deliberately destroy their own products just to keep someone else from it. I thought it would all be resold to some discount store.

In the comments link about "ensuring that products are not resold or fraudulently returned", there was a perspective I though was useful, though I don't know if it's true, or how difficult it would be to work around this issue:

MacAaron says:
January 8, 2010 at 10:40 am
The question left unasked is liability and costs. In grocery and food service, for instance, they often throw out food because giving it to charity or leaving it for anyone to come pick up opens up a lot of liability issues that just aren’t worth tackling. Local ordinances and even county and state-level laws might also interfere.

Having spent a lot of time dealing with charitable issues from a 501(3)(c) issue with our animal rescue, I can tell you that a lot of businesses WANT to help, but their hands are tied by local laws meant (usually) to discourage vagrancy and potential theft. I have to pick up most contributions of direct merchandise, for instance, during business hours or even during specific hours of the day in some towns. The business itself must also do a lot of paperwork and spend man hours complying with those ordinances and IRS requirements for the writeoff, which may make the donation savings moot.

Finally, you have to ask whether the wholesaler or manufacturer gave a refund on the product already. If they did (which is common for larger lots of unsold items), they may not ask for a return and may REQUIRE that the products be destroyed or trashed as part of that refund.

So before you jump to conclusions about who’s to blame, have a closer look at what’s going on. Or just use this as yet another reason to trash on businesses and ignore what this charity worker has found to usually be the problem: government and its rules.

posted by anitanita at 3:17 PM on January 10, 2010 [21 favorites]


Destroying your own property is evil?
posted by 2N2222 at 3:17 PM on January 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Destroying unsold merchandise may be a standard retail policy, but it's a policy that should be reevaluated if it means helping those in need. For all of the resources that a company like WalMart has, I'm sure that they could figure out a way to get clothes to the disadvantaged without taking a financial hit in return.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 3:17 PM on January 10, 2010


Lots of grocery stores and restaurants destroy unsold food, often by pouring bleach on it.
posted by box at 3:20 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


unsold clothes were found in trash bags outside of H&M and Wal-Mart

Well, not exactly Wal-Mart- a contractor for Wal-Mart. No Wal-Marts in NYC.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:20 PM on January 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


I know anecdote is not data, and literary anecdote even less so, but I bet when John Steinbeck described citrus farmers pouring kerosene on oranges (in _The Grapes of Wrath_) because the price collapse meant they could not be sold, he was not making it up to be sensational.

this is not new, but it is definitely evil.
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:20 PM on January 10, 2010 [13 favorites]


In discussing this with friends, one mentioned that stores could punch a hole in the tags or make some other minor alteration that would alert store employees to potential fraudulent returns without making clothes unwearable.

Also, consider that the time spent tearing up clothes could be time spent filling out paperwork or driving things to a donation center. I believe one of the articles said there was a donation center within walking distance of the store.
posted by emilyd22222 at 3:23 PM on January 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


In discussing this with friends, one mentioned that stores could punch a hole in the tags or make some other minor alteration that would alert store employees to potential fraudulent returns without making clothes unwearable.

yeah, like the "not for resale" stamps on commodities distribution food?

plus for extra snaps, the next urban cool designer could incorporate these stamps into the new collection, so everybody would be wearing "not for resale" clothes, not just poor people.
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:27 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I agree this is not good, and this is a horrible waste. Unfortunately, many retailers do this. Many retailers throw out many things that could be reused. I know chain bookstores tear off the covers of books and throw them out.

This is the exact reason many freegans go dumpster diving for food and other miscellaneous items.
posted by hazyspring at 3:29 PM on January 10, 2010


In discussing this with friends, one mentioned that stores could punch a hole in the tags or make some other minor alteration that would alert store employees to potential fraudulent returns without making clothes unwearable.

The people who make fraudulent returns will just bring the item into the store, swap the tag with something else, and return it. You'd be surprised the lengths people will go to.

I absolutely agree that it would make far more sense to donate the items (I tried to convince my manager of this when I worked in retail, to no avail), but when stores are throwing them out, destroying them really is the best way to prevent fraudulent returns or resale.
posted by lexicakes at 3:29 PM on January 10, 2010


Lots of grocery stores and restaurants destroy unsold food, often by pouring bleach on it.
posted by box


The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price, and this is the saddest, bitterest thing of all. Carloads of oranges dumped on the ground. The people come from miles to take the fruit, but this could not be… And men with hoses squirt kerosene on the oranges, and they are angry at the crime, angry at the people who have come to take the fruit. A million people hungry, needing the fruit – and kerosene sprayed over the golden mountains.

And the smell of rot fills the country.

…Dump potatoes in the rivers and place guards along the banks to keep the hungry people from fishing them out.

There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates – died of malnutrition – because the food must rot, must be forced to rot.

The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quicklime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

posted by availablelight at 3:32 PM on January 10, 2010 [80 favorites]


Destroying your own property is evil?

A person destroying their own property might not be evil, but if can it be reused practically to benefit someone less fortunate, it's insensitive and maybe even irresponsible. But for a large comapny like WalMart, their footprint on society is so huge that they have a greater responsibility to the community. If they ignore that responsibility, then they are at least assholes, if not evil.

WalMart has more clout than just about any other retailer or company in history, and that clout can be used to change legislation that is getting in the way of retailers helping out their fellow man. They have PR muscle, legislative relationships, vast networks of connections, and an almost unmatched employee and customer base to pull support from. It's time to move mountains and start having a greater effect on the world than 10 pairs of gym socks for ten dollars.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 3:33 PM on January 10, 2010 [14 favorites]


Destroying unsold merchandise is a pretty standard retail policy evil.
Just like if I were to destroy my car because I felt like it, while people down the street can't make it to work.

Capitalism is all kinds of fucked up.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:33 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, how do we feel all about Cash For Clunkers?
posted by FuManchu at 3:38 PM on January 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


I know chain bookstores tear off the covers of books and throw them out.

"NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that ..."
posted by effbot at 3:41 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sadly, not too surprising. There are similar situations with food, medicine and other personal goods as well as office/school supplies.

*sidebar*I knew a guy who bought clothes from a Goodwill like charity, by the ton, ran them through a baler and sold the clothes, by the cargo container, in Africa. I don't know if Goodwill or other Goodwill like organizations have a transparent position on this. I tend to think that many donated clothes get sold outside of the country (and the organization who received the donation had no intention of ever doing so).

On the food side, there is one very strong law, The Good Samaritan Act, which really facilitates a lot of food donations. As for the comment inside anitanita's comment:

"Having spent a lot of time dealing with charitable issues from a 501(3)(c) issue with our animal rescue, I can tell you that a lot of businesses WANT to help, but their hands are tied by local laws meant (usually) to discourage vagrancy and potential theft. I have to pick up most contributions of direct merchandise, for instance, during business hours or even during specific hours of the day in some towns. The business itself must also do a lot of paperwork and spend man hours complying with those ordinances and IRS requirements for the writeoff, which may make the donation savings moot."

Businesses that want to donate anything, more and more, are very specific about what they want: pick up this between 9-10 AM on Tuesday. They schedule dock space and are working with vendors who also want to drop off and display product. It is a business making a donation. Many grass roots, non-profits have the talent and passion, but not the budget to fulfill these sorts of requests.

This kind of negative PR really shines a clear, focused light on bad practices. This is an opportunity to do the right thing and try to shed the image. We'll see what they do.
posted by zerobyproxy at 3:44 PM on January 10, 2010


A person destroying their own property might not be evil, but if can it be reused practically to benefit someone less fortunate, it's insensitive and maybe even irresponsible. But for a large comapny like WalMart, their footprint on society is so huge that they have a greater responsibility to the community. If they ignore that responsibility, then they are at least assholes, if not evil.

Nonsense. A large company like Walmart has no responsibility to the community. They have a responsibility to themselves. Destroying unneeded merchandise allows them to keep employing their workers and their subcontractors and keeps them viable as a business. It is a waste, no doubt. I can assure you they'd much prefer to have sold all that stuff. But it seems they've made the determination that it makes more sense for their survival to destroy the stuff than give it away. Insisting that they become a charity may be against their best interests as a business, and is as undesirable as insisting you donate even more of your productivity to charity.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:45 PM on January 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was going to write something here about how wrong such wanton destruction is, but availablelight's quote did it far, far more effectively.
posted by JHarris at 3:47 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the fraudulent returns justification is probably a whole lot of bullshit coming from H&M. As the first link below the fold mentions, I was always under the impression that companies that have a reputation for selling stylish clothing did this in part to "preserve brand integrity," a.k.a. keeping their brand image from being in any way associated with poor or homeless people.
posted by invitapriore at 3:47 PM on January 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


I forgot to say: The Gleaners and I, by Agnes Varda, is fantastic and should be seen by everyone. It is quite inspiring.
posted by zerobyproxy at 3:48 PM on January 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


A sibling used to work for a local bakery that would destroy several garbage bags worth of bread every night. They'd offered it to local charities and homeless shelters, but people either didn't want to accept it or couldn't get anyone to pick it up.

Sometimes this goes beyond the will of the company, though in the case of larger corporations they really should have the resources to deal with it properly.
posted by twirlypen at 3:50 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why do people throw around words like evil in situations like this?
posted by fire&wings at 3:51 PM on January 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Destroying your own property is evil?
Sometimes. Is this seriously in question?
posted by Flunkie at 3:51 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


A large company like Walmart has no responsibility to the community. They have a responsibility to themselves.

Except for all their blabla lip service that they care about the community. The law allows them to do this. They can take the PR hit if they want. I bet they change their practices instead, or at least make some donation somewhere. Eh, it's something. No I do not have a better idea how Wal-Mart should run their business, but I bet someone does.

I know chain bookstores tear off the covers of books and throw them out.

Oh it's worse. I have a full twenty volume set of the OED [not the abridged one] from a Big University Library that I scavenged "out of a dumpster" before the entire dumpster of books was set to be tossed out. Apparently because BUL was at a state school, they were literally not allowed to resell or otherwise give away state property [a law put in place to combat fraud, with this unfortunate repercussion]. There was a special dumpster for books that was guarded and/or locked. I had a friend on the inside who left the books out for me. I love them.
posted by jessamyn at 3:51 PM on January 10, 2010 [18 favorites]


Nonsense. A large company like Walmart has no responsibility to the community...

It makes me very sad that there are obviously people who think that way. If they're a part of the community, then they have a responsibility to the community. That's how it works.
posted by octothorpe at 3:51 PM on January 10, 2010 [13 favorites]


I was always under the impression that companies that have a reputation for selling stylish clothing

Is H&M an upscale brand in the US? That's just weird.
posted by effbot at 3:51 PM on January 10, 2010


This merchandise is probably being written off as a loss, and Wal-mart et all get a tax writeoff for it. The best solution here is to disallow the writeoff for destroying merchandise that could otherwise be donated to charity. This would make it their fiduciary duty to their shareholders to donate to charity, otherwise they would be destroying shareholder value along with the merchandise.
posted by mullingitover at 3:53 PM on January 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


Destroying your own property is evil?

I won a pile of tires in back. I'm a gonna light those fuckers on fire tonight. IT'S MY PROPERTY!

The point is the clothes may be their property. But in essentially it's impossible in the universe to destroy matter. They could theoretically convert it to energy by burning it in some completely zero pollution sci-fi way. But you see what they did is render it useless and throw it away. NOT destroy it. Which if take like fifteen seconds to analyze is really fucked up. Our landfills are a problem enough as it is.

Since the same level of labor could have rendered the clothes unprofitable to return and STILL put the clothes in the hands of destitute people who need warm clothes just throwing them out is nothing short of immoral.
posted by tkchrist at 3:53 PM on January 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Destroying your own property is evil?

Of course.

You're starving to death. I have food that that I own. Instead of giving it to you, I throw it in trash. I could have easily saved your life, but I chose not to.

This is not a wild, out-of-the-ballpark analogy. It's fucking freezing in NYC. And the prediction is that it's going to get worse. Some homeless people are definitely going to die from exposure.

I don't think you have to be a wild, anti-capitalist to be disgusted by this. Yes, there's stuff that I own. Ideally, I'd like to say that I don't believe in ownership, but that would be a lie. As far as I'm concerned, my stuff is my stuff. But -- fuck -- if I'm about to throw something away and not-doing-so would save someone's LIFE...?

Seriously, will you repeat the question. I must have heard it wrong.
posted by grumblebee at 3:55 PM on January 10, 2010 [41 favorites]


Even though it is wasteful on the face of it, there is sometimes just no option for a retailer; the stuff has to be moved out, and it has to be done so in a way that doesn't interfere with what is coming in (as in cut into future sales).

A lifetime ago, I worked in a place that provided sheet music to schools (band, orchestra, etc.) We had to inventory many thousands of titles - a large library in essence. But there were always items that didn't sell as many as we had purchased, no matter how carefully we had calculated. Once a year we had to dumpster these, and do it in such a way that the music could not be used (we either sprayed it with water, or did this on a rainy day, etc. etc.)

Why destroy it? Because if we didn't, and the stuff went out to the schools, they would then be free to divert money from their (always limited) budgets to other stuff - band uniforms, etc. - which we didn't supply. We'd lose a big chunk of their business, and the cycle would get worse.

Now and then, a teacher would see us doing this, and would get pretty cheesed off, you can be sure, but we really had no option - no way could we donate this to the people who could have used it. They would have then simply used someplace else, the money they didn't have to spend with us.
posted by woodblock100 at 3:55 PM on January 10, 2010


Nonsense. A large company like Walmart has no responsibility to the community. They have a responsibility to themselves.

At Walmart, we believe in a philosophy of operating globally and giving back locally

They do a little. They should be doing a lot.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 3:56 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


It makes me very sad that there are obviously people who think that way. If they're a part of the community, then they have a responsibility to the community. That's how it works.

Nope. Their responsibility is only to themselves. Their value to the community only goes so far as their ability to provide a service that the community wants. That is how it works, at least for commercial entities.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:57 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hate Walmart and all, but they're not really culpable in this story, are they? This is H&M and some unnamed manufacturer.
posted by rocket88 at 3:58 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


They do a little. They should be doing a lot.

Nope. They should do what they think is in their best interests.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:59 PM on January 10, 2010



A large company like Walmart has no responsibility to the community. They have a responsibility to themselves.

Why do I have a responsibility to my community and they do not? What makes them so exempt? Or, I'm curious to know, do you think that I, an individual, actually have no moral obligation to my community either?
posted by tkchrist at 4:01 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why do I have a responsibility to my community and they do not? What makes them so exempt?

Who says yo do? You have a responsibility to yourself.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:02 PM on January 10, 2010


If this is the least evil thing WalMart does, we need a corporate death penalty yesterday.
posted by DU at 4:04 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nonsense. A large company like Walmart has no responsibility to the community. They have a responsibility to themselves. Destroying unneeded merchandise allows them to keep employing their workers and their subcontractors and keeps them viable as a business.

Two questions:

1. Why does your standard of ethics, in which Walmart does not have any responsibility to the community, trump a a standard of ethics in which it does? You've assumed your own ethics as truth, but it's not clear why that should be the case, no matter how much you keep stonewalling.

2. Is there any proof for the assertion that donating unsold merchandise would cut into Walmart's revenue, beyond intuition?

Is H&M an upscale brand in the US? That's just weird.

Not necessarily upscale. More like the Ikea of clothing in my experience.
posted by invitapriore at 4:04 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Destroying your own property is evil?

Not to pile on, but yes. Destroying your own property can most certainly be evil, in the sense of the definition which puts an emphasis on the immoral or harmful behavior. It doesn't mean that it's anything besides a corporation doing exactly what they are designed to do, which is in this case to not devalue their merchandise by giving away the extras for nothing, but it does still mean that destroying warm clothing that could otherwise be used by those who are freezing is both harmful and immoral.
posted by rollbiz at 4:06 PM on January 10, 2010


Or... If you would consider lighting a hundred dollar bill on fire in front of a homeless person to be an evil act, I wonder how you think this is different. If you wouldn't consider that to be evil, I wonder why not...?
posted by rollbiz at 4:10 PM on January 10, 2010


This is pretty appalling, but when you get down to it, isn't it really just a very visual and visceral demonstration of what capitalism is kind of inherently about?
posted by threeants at 4:10 PM on January 10, 2010 [20 favorites]


Who says yo do? You have a responsibility to yourself.

Actually, helping people in this way would do nothing to the company -- if the clothes are marked in some way that makes them non-returnable, there is no potential for lost profit -- and it would certainly improve public opinion of their brand. Hence, it's very easy to argue that they are being irresponsible toward their community and toward themselves at once.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:12 PM on January 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Just like if I were to destroy my car because I felt like it the U.S. government paid automobile dealerships to destroy perfectly serviceable trade-ins , while people down the street can't make it to work.

FTFY.

Yeah, the cash for clunkers thing kind of pissed me off.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 4:13 PM on January 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


Why do people throw around words like evil in situations like this?

It has been #$@$% freezing on the East Coast this winter. Shelters are overcrowded, everyone's resources are strained. I can promise you that there are people--some of them outside right now--who would weep tears of relief if you offered them warm winter clothes for themselves or their children.
posted by availablelight at 4:14 PM on January 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Who says yo do? You have a responsibility to yourself.

And when, in my view, that responsibility comes in life threatening conflict with your interests? Then what? Oh I get it. I say, hey, fuck you and yours. Right?

Cool. I'm lighting the pile of tires an fire. (say that three times fast) Oh. Oh. I know what you'll say now. "Well, that would be illegal."

But IT WASN'T forty years ago until you know we all got together and defined what our SHARED interests were.

So to boil it down for you this libertarian "fuck everybody else" attitude is essentially a for profit of the few construct and the road block to things like clean water and air. What y'all do is have this amnesia where you forget that last thing y'all said yoiu didn't have to be responsible for— from slavery to dumping mercury.

At every turn there is always some selfish short term thinkers who play into the swan song of "there is no community responsibility." Like somehow a corporation is an orbital Bio dome that floats above and separate of the community of planet earth. Except they don't. What they do has lasting consequences for which they should be held accountable.
posted by tkchrist at 4:14 PM on January 10, 2010 [23 favorites]


A large company like Walmart has no responsibility to the community. They have a responsibility to themselves.


Does the community have a responsibility to Wal-mart?
posted by the duck by the oboe at 4:14 PM on January 10, 2010


"A large company like Walmart has no responsibility to the community."

Really? You really think that? That's a pretty fucked-up worldview right there.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 4:15 PM on January 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Who says yo do? You have a responsibility to yourself.

If you mean to say that you have a responsibility only to yourself and others be damned, and it sounds like you do, then I'm very happy you're not my neighbor.
posted by rollbiz at 4:15 PM on January 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Who says you do? You have a responsibility to yourself.

Oh Gawd, not another Randian.
posted by octothorpe at 4:15 PM on January 10, 2010 [27 favorites]


zerobyproxy, thank you; I was not aware of the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (text of act here). Is there an equivalent law for clothing?
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:16 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Stupid, thoughtless, lazy--those are better words for this situation than "evil." People need to work on their sense of proportion.
posted by goatdog at 4:16 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


"They do a little. They should be doing a lot.

Nope. They should do what they think is in their best interests."


Holy christ that is an assholish thing to say.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 4:17 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does the community have a responsibility to Wal-mart?

Of course not -- that's why the police and the fire department don't respond to their calls. Oh, wait.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:17 PM on January 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


Nonsense. A large company like Walmart has no responsibility to the community. They have a responsibility to themselves. -2n222

Oh Ayn, a sock puppet--really?

posted by mecran01 at 4:19 PM on January 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I don't know if this is chaotic evil. But this is definitely lawful evil.
posted by josher71 at 4:20 PM on January 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


"Does the community have a responsibility to Wal-mart?"

In many communities, yes, in the form of tax rebates given to Wal-Mart in order for them to locate their big-box superstores in the community instead of the next community over.

Which needs to stop, IMHO. I'm very tired of the world's largest corporation getting to suckle at the taxpayers' teats in the name of profit.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 4:21 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Destroying your own property is evil?

When I hear this story, I think about the cotton that was made into the garments, and how the fertilizer is polluting rivers and causing algae blooms and making it impossible for animal life.

I think about where the garments might be made, in Cambodia or China or Asia, and what conditions the workers might be working in.

I think about how far those garments and the raw materials have travelled, probably halfway around the world, and how much extra energy that took so that the manufacturer could save money on labor.

I think about how much oil that means and how much carbon its thrown into the atmosphere, and how much global warming is a problem.

I think about the geopolitical complications that require oil to be cheap and the human cost of the wars that have been fought over this resource.

I would like to think that in our civilization, with its chance absurdities, inequality, waste and high cost on the planet, the things that get produced are done for some purpose, that it helps people and their quality of life, somewhere. But then I realize that humans are fucking up the earth in order to cut holes in t-shirts so that the poor will freeze, and it makes me want to cry.
posted by cotterpin at 4:21 PM on January 10, 2010 [114 favorites]


Quick! Someone page The Ethicist!
posted by kozad at 4:23 PM on January 10, 2010


Holy christ that is an assholish thing to say.

Honestly, I don't think it's that assholish a thing to say when discussing the actual responsibilities of a corporation like H&M. As a corporate entity, their primary objective is to provide profits for their shareholders, and so it doesn't make sense for them to undertake altruistic acts unless, of course, they deem them to be profitable for their shareholders. It's a shitty system, it's still evil, and I don't like it, but it makes them no more of an asshole than a lion is an asshole for killing a gazelle. It's what it's designed to do.
posted by rollbiz at 4:23 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Of course not -- that's why the police and the fire department don't respond to their calls. Oh, wait.

Or run sewer and water lines. Or have public schools to teach their employees to read.

Yup. WalMart orbits the earth in it's own giant self sufficient space lab.
posted by tkchrist at 4:24 PM on January 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


I guess I don't understand why retailers, especially discount retailers, would choose to destroy inventory (never heard of H&M). Shouldn't they be discounting them until the product moves? Is there some contract that prevents them from selling below a specific price? I understand there's a price that represents the cost to actually sell it (cashier labor and transaction fees), but I'm not clear that it's actually higher than destroying it.

It just seems like an evil perpetrated on shareholders as much as society at large.
posted by pwnguin at 4:25 PM on January 10, 2010


Though I like the word and it is meaningful to me, I think we should take "responsibility" out of the conversation. Retailers have a responsibility; retailers don't have a responsibility. According to whom?

The real question is what sort of world do you want to live in? A world in which people suffer when it would be easy to stop them from suffering? If so, then I guess -- yeah -- those retailers should do business as usual. In your world.

If you believe in alleviating as much suffering as possible, what is the better strategy: to destroy the clothes or to donate them to charities?

Even though it is wasteful on the face of it, there is sometimes just no option for a retailer; the stuff has to be moved out, and it has to be done so in a way that doesn't interfere with what is coming in (as in cut into future sales).

I'm trying to understand this. Say the retailer donates their overstock to a homeless shelter. Are you saying that this would hurt their bottom line because all the homeless people would quit buying clothes? Are you saying that middle-class people like me will pretend to be homeless, go to the shelter and demand free clothes, instead of buying new clothes?

Re your example about sheet music: education is important and it sucks that schools can't afford all the materials they need. I do understand, though, why retailers might need to withhold donating stuff to schools. It's a subject worth debating. But we're talking about something here that's not in the same ballpark. Education is important, but we're talking about life and death. Those clothes could save people's LIVES.
posted by grumblebee at 4:25 PM on January 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Except for all their blabla lip service that they care about the community.

This is exactly it. Watch commercials on TV for 1/2 an hour and you'll see at least 5 spots featuring smiling children, beautiful green nature scenes, and uplifting music, while a reassuring voiceover intones, "at company X, we care about your feelings first," or "your happiness is our number 1 goal." Most all of these companies have, at some point, been caught doing things like H&M, or indeed much, much worse. Whenever they're caught, self-proclaimed 'defenders of capitalism' jump all over themselves to excuse the company, saying they were just doing what's natural for a corporation: maximizing profit.

Well, if that's true, that the only goal of the corporation is to maximize profit, how is it that 99% of advertisements are not examples of criminal false advertising? I just get so mad every time I see that Blue Cross commercial with sweet folk music and a family enjoying a trip to their cabin in the woods--how does that have anything to do with Blue Cross? In my opinion, commercials should be nothing but black text on a white background (or, for less professional companies, white text on a blue background), read in a monotone for those with vision problems, that lay out the specifics of a product or offer but contain no seductive plays to fear, happiness, or any other emotion.

And that should satisfy the apologists who defend today's state of advertising as necessary for companies to get their message out. It gives consumers everything they need to make a rational decision and nothing more. Indeed, for those who think that the current economy (which they call 'free market capitalism' but--if you consider that economic theory requires that every market participant have free access to all information, every firm have infinitesimal market share, and every transaction have zero transaction costs in order for economic efficiency to result--definitely does not exhibit free markets) allocates resources rationally and fairly, they should have no problem with these proposed new regulations concerning advertising. In fact, they should argue that the economy wouldn't change at all, since consumers, being perfectly rational, never fall prey to emotive or seductive advertising.

But I bet they wouldn't argue that way.
posted by notswedish at 4:26 PM on January 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


Is H&M an upscale brand in the US? That's just weird.

Stylish doesn't necessarily mean upscale, just that it's what's "in" right now. It's been similarly pointed out to me in the past that Payless actually carries pretty trendy shoe styles; the craftsmanship may be horrible, but the customers don't expect them to last beyond the current season's style anyway. H&M's "disposable fashion" is analogous.
posted by kittyprecious at 4:26 PM on January 10, 2010


...but it makes them no more of an asshole than a lion is an asshole for killing a gazelle

If the lion kills the gazelle, but doesn't eat any of the meat, and makes sure that none of the other creatures in the jungle can eat the meat or scavenge anything from it, then that lion is an asshole.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 4:29 PM on January 10, 2010 [34 favorites]


in a city with 16,000 homeless people

Worse than that. 16,000 homeless children, 39,000 homeless people. The figure may be low.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:29 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Should I feel guilty for wasting my time playing video games when I was unemployed, rather than working for charity? I don't get the outrage here.
posted by skintension at 4:29 PM on January 10, 2010


"I don't get the outrage here."

Then you're part of the problem.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 4:30 PM on January 10, 2010


Destroying unneeded merchandise allows them to keep employing their workers and their subcontractors and keeps them viable as a business.

I don't see how giving those clothes to people who can't afford to buy them in the first place interferes with a retailer's ability to keep employing their workers.

In San Francisco, we have an organization called Food Runners, which picks up perishables and prepared foods and takes them to homeless services and other orgs that feed the hungry. If, for example, your office holiday party had a lot of leftover food, it wouldn't have to all end up in the compost.

I don't see how what Food Runners does causes job loss in restaurants or the catering industry.
posted by rtha at 4:32 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Just like if I were to destroy my car because I felt like it the U.S. government paid automobile dealerships to destroy perfectly serviceable trade-ins , while people down the street can't make it to work.

FTFY.


Yeah, the cash for clunkers thing kind of pissed me off.

yeah, me too - because it didn't go far enough.

what's "perfectly serviceable" about a vehicle that gets under 14 mph (new, premium gas, new tires) to a minimum wage worker with (usually) multiple dependents? for the record, I'm describing the Ford Expedition, the most traded in car in the cash-for-clunkers campaign. how can you feed both that car and your family?

and, why is it still possible to buy a 400+ horsepower car in america, when there is virtually no place you can legally drive it.

and, why can't you get, and mandate, 50+ mph cars today, like we had in the 70s (honda civic cvcc, I love you)?

in short, why is it more profitable and more advantageous to help people make themselves poor than to do the opposite?
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:32 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


If the lion kills the gazelle, but doesn't eat any of the meat, and makes sure that none of the other creatures in the jungle can eat the meat or scavenge anything from it, then that lion is an asshole.

But that's not what a lion is designed to do, and I've never heard of a lion doing that. Nor is giving away anything what a corporation is designed to do, and I assert that they never do so unless they feel that it will ultimately increase profits.

Please, please, and please do not take my comments as a defense of the system. I just think that if we are unhappy with how corporations act as amoral citizens, we should figure out how to change their designation as such rather than wondering why they do what they're destined to do.
posted by rollbiz at 4:34 PM on January 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


The sun beats down on farmland and a giant harvester rolls along to pull the plants send them to the cotton gin. The bails of cotton are gathered and placed on ships to China. An industrial loom churns out kilometers of fabric and thread, who knows what chemicals make their way to the rivers from the dyes and industrial by products. A worker in the sweatshop takes the fabric and works 12 hour shifts for pennies an hour to meet the production quota. The clothes make their way to Long Beach and are offloaded by train and truck to make their way to each individual store. I imagine all the ordinary forgotten workers involved in the supply chain and the few winners created by the immense scale of the undertaking. Then the final act some guy throws it all into the wood chipper to shred them into scraps.
posted by humanfont at 4:34 PM on January 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


>I was always under the impression that companies that have a reputation for selling stylish clothing

Is H&M an upscale brand in the US? That's just weird.


H&M is regarded as a place that sells stylish but flimsy clothes. Anything you buy there won't survive 15 washings, but you don't care because it will probably look a bit dated by that time. American consumers regard H&M exactly as consumers do in Europe and Canada. And many of us consider that marketing plan wasteful and don't shop there.

(The terms "stylish" and "upscale" aren't mutually exclusive. And you knew that, but nice try.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:41 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Then you're part of the problem.

The only problem I see is that it took so long for people to realize this was happening and take the company to task for it. The company acted rationally and predictably.

If they had said they would continue the practice because it's more convenient or better for their profits, then yes, perhaps outrage. But this? No.
posted by skintension at 4:42 PM on January 10, 2010



Does the community have a responsibility to Wal-mart?


No. It doesn't stop many communities from allowing them all kinds of perks, though.

Walmart and H&M have no more responsibility to the communities they are in than the local vacuum cleaner store or real estate broker. Their value to the community is the service they provide as viable businesses. If they don't provide a service, they should go out of business.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:42 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


sorry mr_crash_davis I think I swung my warhammer in your direction unnecessarily. it appears we are on the same team...
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:42 PM on January 10, 2010


But then I realize that humans are fucking up the earth in order to cut holes in t-shirts so that the poor will freeze, and it makes me want to cry.

A little over the top don't you think? Nobody is doing this "so that the poor will freeze". The retailer most likely isn't the one to blame here, the manufacturer is. Manufacturers/wholesalers of seasonal type merchandise, such as clothes, will issue credit to the retailer for unsold goods and direct that the retailer, or a designated third party, destroy the merchandise. The manufacturer has no use for these items as they are "out" and they don't want to pay to warehouse them but they have taken a loss on them and they don't want someone else reselling them. My employer accepts seasonal returns as we can often close them out and if not we will warehouse them until the appropriate season comes around again. We do occasionally purge the warehouse but we try very hard to get something out of it (like the tax deduction we received for donating a couple of semi loads of product to the Katrina relief effort). Destroying salable merchandise is a last resort for us.
posted by MikeMc at 4:44 PM on January 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I guess I don't understand why retailers, especially discount retailers, would choose to destroy inventory (never heard of H&M). Shouldn't they be discounting them until the product moves?

Retailers have a limited amount of shelf space. A product that dwells on the shelf for a long time without being sold represents a profit loss if that shelf space could be otherwise occupied by product that's moving faster.

In most cases I would argue that the sensible thing would be to contract with those dollar stores to cart away all the unsold merchandise and let them worry about marking it down until it sells. But you can't always do that with clothing where a brand/label has a certain premium associated with it, otherwise you dilute its status.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:51 PM on January 10, 2010


The only problem I see is that it took so long for people to realize this was happening and take the company to task for it. The company acted rationally and predictably.

If they had said they would continue the practice because it's more convenient or better for their profits, then yes, perhaps outrage. But this? No.


Huh? Saying that it was more convenient or better for profits would leave me a lot less outraged than the "This isn't our policy, we're looking into it, and we'll fire some 'rogue' lower middle manager to placate you until you forget about what we did" approach...
posted by rollbiz at 4:52 PM on January 10, 2010


Walmart and H&M have no more responsibility to the communities they are in than the local vacuum cleaner store or real estate broker. Their value to the community is the service they provide as viable businesses. If they don't provide a service, they should go out of business.

Providing a service and not fucking over the community should not have to be mutually exclusive.
posted by rollbiz at 4:54 PM on January 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


if the clothes are marked in some way that makes them non-returnable, there is no potential for lost profit

Destroying the clothes is how they mark them as non-returnable. If they were to donate them, they'd have to come up with some system of permanently marking clothes that couldn't be thwarted by people who want to resell the clothes or fraudulently return them.

It seems like the best option for stores who don't want to waste unsold products would be to sell the overstock to discount stores. I'm not sure why more stores don't do this.
posted by lexicakes at 4:56 PM on January 10, 2010



Providing a service and not fucking over the community should not have to be mutually exclusive.


They're fucking over the community now?
posted by 2N2222 at 4:58 PM on January 10, 2010


Throwing away things that still have use, even if only by others, is the American way. It is how we build our temples of waste, the landfills. Great beautiful stinking mounds of useful things, rendered useless in their association with other things sent out for the trash.

Generations will pass and others will discover our landfills. They will know quite quickly how dysfunctional the society that created them were.
posted by localhuman at 5:00 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]



It seems like the best option for stores who don't want to waste unsold products would be to sell the overstock to discount stores. I'm not sure why more stores don't do this.


Depending on the manufacturer, they may not be allowed to. There are brands that you will never see in Marshall's for that reason. Tends to be higher end than what you'd find in Wal-Mart, granted, but this kind of action isn't necessarily just the doing of the retailer.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:01 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


They're fucking over the community now?

Yes. discarding warm clothing and rendering it unusable, and then leaving it footsteps from those who are outside and homeless during one of the coldest winters I can remember is something I (and I believe most non-sociopaths) would consider to be fucking over the community.
posted by rollbiz at 5:04 PM on January 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Prayer of the Selfish Child

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And If I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my toys to break.
So none of the other kids can use ‘em.
Amen.

--Shel Silverstein
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:04 PM on January 10, 2010 [28 favorites]


Rhomboid: "Retailers have a limited amount of shelf space. A product that dwells on the shelf for a long time without being sold represents a profit loss if that shelf space could be otherwise occupied by product that's moving faster."

Then keep discounting it until it does move faster. This isn't rocket science, although you did couch it in velocities. I think MikeMc gives a bit of useful insight: there are channels of influence a manufacturer to influence a retailer's decision to slide and dice.
posted by pwnguin at 5:05 PM on January 10, 2010


Their value to the community is the service they provide as viable businesses. If they don't provide a service, they should go out of business.

I can't believe I'm feeding the troll, but you're basically slaving over an incredibly simplified principle here. The service a business provides is traditionally -- and even currently -- only one facet of its presence in the community. Pretending otherwise to make a point just makes you seem willfully ignorant.
posted by hermitosis at 5:06 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


While infuriating, the attitude of 2N2222 and other sthat WalMart has no responsibility here is technically true -- not because it is morally right in any sane analysis, but because that's how we made companies like WalMart. All of them.

It wasn't always this way. It used to be that companies needed a charter from the King, and were only allowed to do certain things, and did have social responsibilities, and could lose their charter for not being good citizens. But in the 19th century the companies managed to get enough control of the government to get more and more freedom for themselves. In the final insanity, in 1886 a phrase made it into a Supreme Court case effectively declaring that companies should have many of the freedoms of people, even though they lack many of the responsibilities. That clause was written into the decision not by any of the Justices, but by a reporter who himself used to be president of a railroad.

If you have seen Terminator 3, that was pretty much the moment that the generals decided to let Skynet loose. Individuals cannot prevail either in court or in raw power displays against such vast and hugely funded adversaries, and so they get to do pretty much whatever they want, and to hell with actual people.
posted by localroger at 5:10 PM on January 10, 2010 [12 favorites]


I guess I don't understand why retailers, especially discount retailers, would choose to destroy inventory (never heard of H&M). Shouldn't they be discounting them until the product moves?

They don't have infinite space. At the scale & margins these guys operate at, it's all about throughput. Store space is precious, and needs to be used for things that sell by itself.

(Any corporate tax accountants here that can explain if donations of distressed inventory might mess things up taxwise under US law, btw?)

(never heard of H&M)

They're just one of the world's largest fashion retailers, with hundreds of stores in the US and thousands world-wide (global #3 last year, iirc).

(The terms "stylish" and "upscale" aren't mutually exclusive. And you knew that, but nice try.)

The claim was that H&M are destroying things that nobody wants to buy rather than see poor people wearing it, to preserve their brand integrity. They're not really that kind of brand.
posted by effbot at 5:11 PM on January 10, 2010


Exactly what localroger said.
posted by rollbiz at 5:11 PM on January 10, 2010



Yes. discarding warm clothing and rendering it unusable, and then leaving it footsteps from those who are outside and homeless during one of the coldest winters I can remember is something I (and I believe most non-sociopaths) would consider to be fucking over the community.


Were these businesses ever expected to give away usable stuff to the community in the first place? If not, I think you have a hard time accusing them of fucking over their community. Their viability as an economic enterprise is their contribution to the community. it seems that viability is threatened when they must do things such as give to charity the things they cannot sell. t's a threat not only to the business, but also the people who find their services valuable, and the people they employ.

Charity is fine. But when it's deemed mandatory contribution to the community, it's no longer charity
posted by 2N2222 at 5:13 PM on January 10, 2010


Destroying your own property is evil?

There is no property. There's just stuff that we have temporary stewardship over.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:15 PM on January 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


In most cases I would argue that the sensible thing would be to contract with those dollar stores to cart away all the unsold merchandise and let them worry about marking it down until it sells. But you can't always do that with clothing where a brand/label has a certain premium associated with it, otherwise you dilute its status.

y'all never heard of TJMaxx? seriously, I get all my designer shit there. I mean, it's not like we're talking about couture...
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:15 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


It wasn't always this way. It used to be that companies needed a charter from the King, and were only allowed to do certain things, and did have social responsibilities, and could lose their charter for not being good citizens.

Well, we have at least one vote monarchy.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:16 PM on January 10, 2010


and insert obligatory Ab-Fab reference
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:17 PM on January 10, 2010


For all of the resources that a company like WalMart has, I'm sure that they could figure out a way to get clothes to the disadvantaged without taking a financial hit in return turn it into a postitive PR opportunity.


FTFY.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:23 PM on January 10, 2010


If the store's concern is that people will grab donated clothes and try to turn them into cash, why not simply not allow returns on clothes? I used to work clothing retail, and the vast majority of returned clothes were "rented" by cheapskates. "All sales are final" would have made zero difference to the vast majority of our customers, who tried on the clothes in the store and didn't buy in order to return most because they had no ability to be decisive.

(It's also easy to spot actual defects on returned clothes vs. "scissor slash" and other crap people try to pull.)

In short: I would be much happier with retailers donating surplus and allowing no returns if that's what it took to stop wasting these clothes (or books, or whatever). Hell, the policy would work just fine if it was "no returns on items which we no longer stock."
posted by maxwelton at 5:23 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Were these businesses ever expected to give away usable stuff to the community in the first place?

The point, sir, you're missing it. This isn't about H&M or Wal-Mart giving away viable merchandise as charity. It's about them deeming merchandise as wothless enough to throw away, and then destroying it so that it could not be used by people who need it and cannot afford to buy it. The needy and homeless are still a part of the community, and so THAT IS FUCKING OVER THE COMMUNITY.
posted by rollbiz at 5:24 PM on January 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


From the second New York Times link, the representative of a clothing charity explains how they deal with the danger of attempted returns or resales:

“We use a method of ‘defacing’ each garment that does not impair its wearability, but does remove any potential street value in the underground market.”
posted by palliser at 5:26 PM on January 10, 2010


In short: I would be much happier with retailers donating surplus and allowing no returns if that's what it took to stop wasting these clothes (or books, or whatever). Hell, the policy would work just fine if it was "no returns on items which we no longer stock."

Mark the sewn in tags: No mark, or no tag, no return.
posted by rollbiz at 5:26 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems like the best option for stores who don't want to waste unsold products would be to sell the overstock to discount stores. I'm not sure why more stores don't do this.

We've done this as a manufacturer but a retailer isn't going to do that. We have in the past taken pallets of returned merch. from a club store customer, "SC", and repacked the product in to smaller case lots for resale to a deep discounter, "BL". We have the equipment, manpower and designated manufacturing and warehouse spaces to do such a thing, retailers do not. I think it all boils down to iffy sales forecasting (which is more voodoo than science).
posted by MikeMc at 5:26 PM on January 10, 2010


If they were to donate them, they'd have to come up with some system of permanently marking clothes that couldn't be thwarted by people who want to resell the clothes or fraudulently return them.

Like not having a receipt?
posted by bwg at 5:31 PM on January 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Then keep discounting it until it does move faster

But if the new, desirable stock you could be selling will earn, say, $20 markup, as soon as the selling price of the old stock falls below $20 then it makes better financial sense to get rid of the old stock. And that's ignoring the likely low volume of sales of the old stock.
posted by cillit bang at 5:34 PM on January 10, 2010


"All sales are final" would have made zero difference to the vast majority of our customers, who tried on the clothes in the store and didn't buy in order to return most because they had no ability to be decisive.

Gifts are an important part of retail business, though. I wouldn't buy clothing for gifts at all if the person couldn't return it.

Also, what you're not seeing, as a worker, is that allowing returns is overall profitable for stores because of the sales-increasing effect of lowering the stakes in people's minds ("oh, I'll just pick it up, and if it doesn't work I'll return it"). If the person keeps it, you don't know that the sale was dependent on the fact that it wasn't necessarily final.
posted by palliser at 5:35 PM on January 10, 2010


For all of the resources that a company like WalMart has

Ok, I just read the NYT followup. Looks like both companies generally donate all their left-over stuff, that there's a NY organization that provide 80,000 people with donated clothing & other goods from some 400 companies, and that this whole debate is pretty much just yet another Twitter storm.

the representative of a clothing charity explains how they deal with the danger of attempted returns or resales

Unless someone redirects the shipments to their own charity, that is... (he got sentenced to 2 years in prison).
posted by effbot at 5:37 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


2N2222 you have yet to defend any of your declarations of how companies and individuals have zero responsibility to the community. IOW nobody in your odd world view seems to have any greater responsibility but that unto themselves. You have been supplied with several concrete examples of that point of view being patently and demonstrably morally untenable. But you don't ever seem to address those arguments excepting by extracting another sideways rhetorical remark from our comments. I wonder if you notice that? And if you don't, you should. It is hereabouts the earmark of a troll.
posted by tkchrist at 5:37 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


The needy and homeless are still a part of the community, and so THAT IS FUCKING OVER THE COMMUNITY.

Nobody, not you, not me, not the local mom-and-pop store, not Walmart, is obligated to help the needy and homeless outside their tax contributions that may apply. That is the point you're missing.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:40 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


effbot: "They're just one of the world's largest fashion retailers, with hundreds of stores in the US and thousands world-wide (global #3 last year, iirc)."

And yet the nearest one is 250 miles away from me. I don't know why you seem offended I haven't heard of them though. Citizen of Sweden, maybe?

I do understand that NYC is a massively space constrained city that changes things a bit. Stores like Walmart build big boxes for a reason, and it was interesting when they announced interest in opening a store in NYC (I guess this hasn't happened?). It would have to be dominated by throughput, yes. I'd just imagine that means you discount faster, but I guess that's why I'm not in retail.

But since Walmart is apparently exhonerated, I should excuse myself from the controversy, as I'm not a customer of H&M or NYC (or, I guess, the homeless).
posted by pwnguin at 5:40 PM on January 10, 2010


Nobody, not you, not me, not the local mom-and-pop store, not Walmart, is obligated to help the needy and homeless outside their tax contributions that may apply. That is the point you're missing.

Not being obligated to do something doesn't mean you're not fucking over or being evil towards other people when you don't, especially when you go out of your way to trash what is useless to you in order to render it useless to others. That is the point you're missing.
posted by rollbiz at 5:46 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


2N2222 you have yet to defend any of your declarations of how companies and individuals have zero responsibility to the community. IOW nobody in your odd world view seems to have any greater responsibility but that unto themselves. You have been supplied with several concrete examples of that point of view being patently and demonstrably morally untenable. But you don't ever seem to address those arguments excepting by extracting another sideways rhetorical remark from our comments. I wonder if you notice that? And if you don't, you should. It is hereabouts the earmark of a troll.

Funny, I have yet to hear anyone demonstrate that companies and individuals do have an obligation to the community, outside from their appeal to their sense of morality. IOW, individuals have a responsibility to the community, because they say so.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:49 PM on January 10, 2010


MikeMc : A little over the top don't you think?

No. If you destroy food, shelter, or some other basic necessity specifically to prevent anyone else from using it (as opposed to merely preventing resale as semi-new goods), yes, you have committed a crime against your species. Plain and simple, no moral or ethical ambiguity involved. And I consider myself something of a Libertarian and relatively heartless, so take that as you will.


Manufacturers/wholesalers of seasonal type merchandise, such as clothes, will issue credit to the retailer for unsold goods and direct that the retailer, or a designated third party, destroy the merchandise.

Newbury Comics, in New England, has a rather well-known method of satisfying this condition. They make a blatant notch in the case, while leaving the merchandise (mostly CDs) entirely functional. They then sell these at a pittance, essentially a form of charity to college students (A good third of my CD collection has small notches half an inch from the bottom on the spine of the case).

Same goes for paperbacks, which others have mentioned as the prototypical example of this - Rip off the cover and throw them away. But, that doesn't actually remove any of the core functionality of a book, it just removes its resale value.

So by all means, deface these clothes. Put them in a big pile and douse them in bleach. Even make obvious (but not substantially damaging) token holes in them to make them unsellable. But to cut them up to make them useless rather than unsellable, Yes, I think we can all consider that a crime against humanity.

And put bluntly, those arguing on behalf of the resellers and manufacturers, you should consider yourself part of the problem. Yeah, they have exactly one "duty", to maximize shareholder profit; we all have an implicit duty, however, to minimize suffering in our fellow man, especially when doing so causes ourselves no discomfort. Hiding that behind a corporate facade and arguments about "duty" amounts to something far more ugly than mere cowardice.
posted by pla at 5:49 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


2N2222 you have yet to defend any of your declarations of how companies and individuals have zero responsibility to the community.

I do NOT agree with 2N222 insofar as he seems to believe there is some philosophic/ethic reason that corporations do not have a community responsibility. I don't agree even a little bit. But I do think to some degree he is right and does not know why.

Corporations are run by executives acting as directed by a board of directors, who are hired to act on behalf of the shareholders. Under the laws of the state in which the company is incorporated and the charter of the corporation, those directors have certain obligations. One is typically to act in the best financial interests of the shareholders. A board of directors MUST do this. If X action would be generally good for the community, but cause a drop in share prices, then the may not be allowed to do X.

The paragraph above is a really, really, really simplified view, especially in a world where PR impacts share price and in a situation where, as here, it is arguable at best that the donation of these clothes to the homeless could have any negative impact on share price (imo, it would be a positive effect).

On preview, I see that 2N2222 is taking a position I've seen some of my batshitinsane relatives take, that paying taxes is enforced charity. I think there's a disconnect from reality for such people, and getting to wrapped up in why they think that and attempting to rationally rebut their views has been all fail. The views aren't based on reason, and reason will not change them.
posted by bunnycup at 5:49 PM on January 10, 2010


I don't know why you seem offended I haven't heard of them though.

That comment was informative, not argumentative.

(Not sure why the distance has to do with your lack of knowledge about huge global brands, though. The nearest Wal-Mart is probably some 4000 miles from where I am right now, and isn't even a global brand, but that doesn't prevent me from knowing that they exist...)
posted by effbot at 5:51 PM on January 10, 2010


2n2222
Nobody, not you, not me, not the local mom-and-pop store, not Walmart, is obligated to help the needy and homeless outside their tax contributions that may apply.
Follow that path. I'm sure it'll make you real happy.

I'll be busy laughing with my neighbors as we struggle to help others in need. While I don't have much, I often find that giving of myself, without expectation for reward, makes me quite happy.

I'll shovel my elderly neighbor's walk if it seems they cannot, and they'll do the same for me. I know you don't get it. But you might enjoy it. Try it.
posted by localhuman at 5:52 PM on January 10, 2010


IOW, individuals have a responsibility to the community, because they say so.

So it's cool to burn tires in my back yard then?
posted by tkchrist at 5:52 PM on January 10, 2010


Not being obligated to do something doesn't mean you're not fucking over or being evil towards other people when you don't, especially when you go out of your way to trash what is useless to you in order to render it useless to others. That is the point you're missing.

Does that mean you are an evil person for posting on Metafilter right now rather than gathering clothes for the needy? You're not obligated to do anything, but surely, you're fucking over folks who are freezing to death by wasting time here.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:52 PM on January 10, 2010


Funny, I have yet to hear anyone demonstrate that companies and individuals do have an obligation to the community, outside from their appeal to their sense of morality.

Stop reading Ayn Rand and try reading "Grapes of Wrath." People are going to freeze to death because of Walmart's thoughtlessness. You should be grateful that you are in a position where you can dismiss the importance of this issue because it doesn't affect you. Have some compassion for your fellow human beings who do not have that luxury.
posted by Lobster Garden at 5:52 PM on January 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


bunnycup, 2N2222 is not right. He is not right because he argues that what they're doing is OK and not evil or detrimental to the community rather than what they're doing is what they're destined to do. I wouldn't argue the second point, but I'll definitely take exception to the first.
posted by rollbiz at 5:55 PM on January 10, 2010


Does that mean you are an evil person for posting on Metafilter right now rather than gathering clothes for the needy? You're not obligated to do anything, but surely, you're fucking over folks who are freezing to death by wasting time here.

OK, so we've now eliminated all doubt that you are a troll.
posted by rollbiz at 5:57 PM on January 10, 2010


2N2222 : Funny, I have yet to hear anyone demonstrate that companies and individuals do have an obligation to the community, outside from their appeal to their sense of morality.

Because it makes good business sense, as simple as that. Customers will remain customers if they like your products, and you can't beg for better advertising than having people voluntarily wear your token-damaged products.

I mentioned above that my current CD collection, thanks to the "charity" of Newbury Comics' rather liberal interpretation of manufacturers' "destroy" orders, consists of roughly a third "destroyed" goods.

At one time, I would have described it as over 95% cut-outs. And I have well over 2000 CDs... Meaning, since my college days, I have bought somewhere around 1400 CDs at something resembling retail price.


Believe me when I say that I have zero interest in "charity" when it hurts me. But to destroy something that can help someone else, with no down side for myself? How can you call that anything but evil?
posted by pla at 6:00 PM on January 10, 2010


Rollbiz, I agree with you. As, er, I did already say, I am separating out the idea of "right" and "lawful". He is correct that it is lawful for a corporation to decline to act in the community good. He is absolutely wrong that it is right, morally just, etc. While I accept that it is the law, I do not accept the concept and would wish to see it changed. But all the same, it may be unlawful for a corporation to act other than in shareholders' financial interests.

Interestingly, Wal Mart's own ethical statement, which purports to bind everyone from the rank and file up to the board of directors, states "We do not tolerate, permit, or engage in bribery, corruption, or unethical practices of any kind."
posted by bunnycup at 6:01 PM on January 10, 2010


The nearest Wal-Mart is probably some 4000 miles from where I am right now, and isn't even a global brand, but that doesn't prevent me from knowing that they exist...)

from Wikipedia
"Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (branded as Walmart) is an American public corporation that runs a chain of large, discount department stores. It is the world's largest public corporation by revenue, according to the 2008 Fortune Global 500.[4]

Walmart operates in Mexico as Walmex, in the United Kingdom as Asda, in Japan as Seiyu, and in India as Best Price. It has wholly-owned operations in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Wal-Mart's investments outside North America have had mixed results: its operations in the United Kingdom, South America and China are highly successful, while it was forced to pull out of Germany and South Korea when ventures there were unsuccessful."

I think you'll agree this, along with your own admission of knowing they exist despite there not being one within a continent's-breadth of you, is the definition of global brand.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:05 PM on January 10, 2010


Funny, I have yet to hear anyone demonstrate that companies and individuals do have an obligation to the community, outside from their appeal to their sense of morality.

There have been several and you have never even attempted to address them.

Oh. I see. Your waiting for a court order or law is that it?

Don't you understand our "moral responsibility" is the momentum that makes laws and defines our obligations.

Just you saying you bear no responsibility to your community is ONLY literally true because you essentially refuse to open your eyes and see the greater social context in which you live and take any responsibility even for your self.

You don't live in a vacuum.

The problem is people like you, yes people like you, road block these attempt at achieving any social good with this claim there exists no responsibility to a great er community.

Your same argument was made time and time again to block Civil Rights, the Clean Air Act, emancipation, the vote for women, the implementation of Social Security and health care reform. Every change that held a cost, the cost was resisted.

Ever time there was a cost to be met by the community, certain individuals have balked and said there existed no such shared obligation. And again and again years later we see the merits of sharing those costs and responsibility but because of people like you and your odd form social amnesia the argument has to be made over and over.

I suppose you could claim all the thing I mentioned as social goods and net positives are, in your view, not good or positive and should be reversed. in which case you would be indeed a distinct and reviled minority.

I think you need to think about this a little more.
posted by tkchrist at 6:06 PM on January 10, 2010 [15 favorites]


No. If you destroy food, shelter, or some other basic necessity specifically to prevent anyone else from using it

You phrased your comment in such as way that it sounded like people were destroying clothing in order to ensure that poor people freeze.

They make a blatant notch in the case, while leaving the merchandise (mostly CDs) entirely functional.

Cutouts IOW. I had a side job in retail for a while (national chain) they would smash CDs (and pretty much everything else) with a hammer and throw them in a locked dumpster. My first week there I had to destroy a $600 (retail) display model desk because it was discontinued and the manufacturer, who provided the display gratis, wanted it destroyed. It was, and is, asinine. I offered to buy the desk but the manager said her hands were tied and I had to destroy it. I do not agree with these wasteful policies but I do understand why retailers do these things (as stupid as it may be).
posted by MikeMc at 6:06 PM on January 10, 2010


Sorry, bunnycup, I read to hastily to realize that we agree completely.
posted by rollbiz at 6:07 PM on January 10, 2010


to too
posted by rollbiz at 6:07 PM on January 10, 2010


I know this is going to sound confusing, but pointing out that someone may have read Ayn Rand isn't prima fascie proof that they are also wrong. They're usually correlated, but it's not causative.
posted by 0xFCAF at 6:08 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


@MonkeyToes--I don't know if anything like the Good Sam Act exists for clothing but, my guess is, it really isn't needed because there is very little legal exposure from distributing a cardigan that is from 2009 whereas you would have a TON of exposure with distributing tuna from 2009. Good Sam deals with negligence and operating with due dilligence (in terms of handling donated food). I guess that there could be exposure if some fabric was flamable or not flame retardant...

This is just straight away corporate laziness. If the company were to look at their dump rate, figure how much they are spending to destroy product that is useful, they'd quickly realize that they could find sooooooo many charities that would love to distribute warm clothes to needy families (during the worst recession in most people's lifetime).

If the clothing companies wanted a Good Sam equivalent they'd need their charitable partners to join them and try to push some legislation through. It should be noted that Good Sam deals only with the US and not abroad. This might limit the willingness of some International Charities participation, in my opinion.

An interesting thread tonight...
posted by zerobyproxy at 6:11 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]



So it's cool to burn tires in my back yard then?


Burning tires has a nasty side effect. But you can certainly shred them even if they might be usable by your neighbor's jalopy.

I just went back and read some responses. Ayn Rand? Really? I tried to read Atlas Shrugged once, but could never get into it. What's interesting is that my position isn't some way out Objectivist position. This is kind of common sense for running a business. You reduce costs and seek profits. Pure evil, I know...


Because it makes good business sense, as simple as that. Customers will remain customers if they like your products, and you can't beg for better advertising than having people voluntarily wear your token-damaged products.


That may be so. But that's their decision to make. Not the community's decision to impose.


OK, so we've now eliminated all doubt that you are a troll.


Why? What's good for Walmart is good for you, no?

Giving away goods seems to have been deemed a bad for business. So they're destroyed. This helps ensure that the business remains viable. Their viability is pretty much their contribution to the community. Giving away goods may be a help to part of the community. But it seems it may come at a cost to the business, which hurts their viability. Does anybody really think that would be a good idea?
posted by 2N2222 at 6:12 PM on January 10, 2010



I know this is going to sound confusing, but pointing out that someone may have read Ayn Rand isn't prima fascie proof that they are also wrong. They're usually correlated, but it's not causative.


Reading Rand? No? Taking that crazy shit remotely seriously? Let's just say if they said the sky was blue I'd have to go look out a window.
posted by tkchrist at 6:12 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's a reason the main the you are supposed to learn in kindergarten is sharing. All other lessons are pointless if you don't want to be part of society. Please do feel free to exempt yourself from society and die alone.
posted by Babblesort at 6:15 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is kind of common sense for running a business. You reduce costs and seek profits. Pure evil, I know...

First off. I own a business. Profit and responsibility are not mutually exclusive.

My problem is that you stated a very bold assertion that you have not supported in the face of the reality we live. In that there does in realty exist a set of obligations we, as members of a greater society, hold. We pay for schools, sewer, water, roads, borders, police, fire protection, and military (among a great many other things) communally. You may not need repairs to your road but part of what you pay every month helps your neighbor pay for the pot hole in his.

You admit that there are consequences to an action, burning tires for instance, well it used be legal for you neighbor to endure those consequences. Until Communities agreed to outlaw the practice.

What you are doing is saying WalMart bears no responsibility for the consequences of it's actions, actions while strictly legal NOW, are still condemned by the lion share of the larger community.

It is an infuriating and immoral position to state there exists no obligation to a community when the community does share in consequences of your individual actions.

Basically all your saying is "Fuck you, I don't care." But that makes you position neither true nor tenable. And kind of makes you a jerk.

Seriously. Think about it.
posted by tkchrist at 6:21 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would argue that if an entity has goods or services that are placing a burden on you (e.g., storage space, time to destroy) and there are people who are in desperate need of those goods or services, and it would require little effort (or equal burden to the existing one) to provide those goods or services to these people, you are morally obligated to do so. Here, it appears that Wal-Mart and H&M are either not considering those who need their goods, or are interpreting the burden of passing those goods on as greater than the burden of destroying them. I believe this is a false perception, but I do not have intimate knowledge of their business practices.
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:22 PM on January 10, 2010


MikeMc : You phrased your comment in such as way that it sounded like people were destroying clothing in order to ensure that poor people freeze.

No. You have attributed that to me from others - I honestly don't really care if people freeze, because we evolved as the "winners" on a pretty damned harsh planet. Some people live, and some people die, but Nature wins every hand.

That said, I meant my post as a contrast to that - Even holding that rather callous view, I can't consider the deliberate destruction of basic necessities as anything other than maliciously condemning those who lack those necessities to death (or at least, great discomfort).


I do not agree with these wasteful policies but I do understand why retailers do these things (as stupid as it may be).

A desk and cutout CDs do not count as basic human necessities. I mentioned CDs because they benefitted the companies involved in my (and many similar) case(s).

In the case of food or clothes? Sorry, but rendering them unuseable rather than merely unsaleable plain and simply counts as a crime against your species. I gave a reason to favor "token" destruction by the companies themselves, but I can't force you to see why true destruction counts as nothing short of a crime against humanity.
posted by pla at 6:23 PM on January 10, 2010


Giving away goods may be a help to part of the community.

Nobody say they had to give them away. What were saying is being wasteful as a default has larger negative impact on the community.
posted by tkchrist at 6:25 PM on January 10, 2010


Can we please stop trying to change this one gleefully obstinate-for-the-sake-of-it mind so that this thread becomes, once again, worth reading?
posted by hermitosis at 6:26 PM on January 10, 2010


Giving away goods seems to have been deemed a bad for business

You know, I see your point. But I do believe there exists a middle ground where the clothes could be rendered unsuitable for selling on the streets and yet still sufficient to provide protection from the elements for the homeless.

It would also provide the store with some good public relations.
posted by freshundz at 6:26 PM on January 10, 2010


Babblesort : There's a reason the main the you are supposed to learn in kindergarten is sharing. All other lessons are pointless if you don't want to be part of society. Please do feel free to exempt yourself from society and die alone.

Personally, I say, "fuck society", and hope that society will let me die alone.

And I still won't grudge the needy my refuse. If you want to wear my cast-offs, Zeus bless ya - have at 'em.

posted by pla at 6:27 PM on January 10, 2010


So here's what should happen, since a "corporation" is a pseudo-person under US law that doesn't have to have an enforced social conscience (like it would in, say, Germany): A person who works at the company, perhaps a manager at each branch, perhaps someone in charge of all franchisees, notices that there's a huge amount of unsold product that gets destroyed each year -- and recognizes that there is a need for that unsold product amongst a population that cannot and will not ever purchase said product from the company. That person/those people then make arrangements to collect and donate/distribute the unsold product according to the laws that govern the region(s) in which said product is donated/distributed, and then notify their PR department that this is being done so that the PR people can turn the unsold goods into profit through standard PR methods.

In short, there's a solid business case for turning unsold goods into good PR -- and so if the individuals in a position to following this path choose instead not to bother, it's completely appropriate for others to point out "hey, look, these people are too lazy/stupid to do something that will help the communities that their customers live in, and would also benefit them." And, as it happens, when a person won't do the right thing even when it would also benefit them, we generally call them douchebags and assholes and whatnot.

So carry on.
posted by davejay at 6:28 PM on January 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Can we please stop trying to change this one gleefully obstinate-for-the-sake-of-it mind so that this thread becomes, once again, worth reading?

Then please get the ball rolling and you say something worth reading.
posted by tkchrist at 6:28 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


2N2222: Trying to be in good keeping with the community standards, the reason you are being a troll right now is that the "do good deeds instead of posting on Metafilter" argument is the last bastion of the troll, and you also are attacking ideas without defending the refutations to yours. You're not offering explanations as to why merchandise deemed useless by these corporations needs to be destroyed, you're doing exactly what tkchrist called you out for doing.

So, in my last good faith effort: We're not talking about retailers giving away valuable goods, we're talking about them destroying things they deemed useless in a manner that made those things useless to people who could use them but couldn't afford to buy them. We're not talking about legal obligations, we're talking about doing the right thing vs. doing the wrong thing morally or ethically. We're not focusing our discussion of business viability solely on their ability to make money or employ people, but on the scale of what they give vs. what they take from a community.

Can you actually address these points, or are you just trolling?
posted by rollbiz at 6:31 PM on January 10, 2010


Capitalism is dependent on scarcity. Conversely, abundance of product is anathema to the well-oiled gears of capitalism.

So this is pretty shitty. Then again, if you've ever purchased goods from a store you're part of the problem.
posted by bardic at 6:31 PM on January 10, 2010


Burning tires has a nasty side effect.

No shit. So does shredding synthetics and cotton fabrics and putting them in a land fill.

Not sure you caught that point the first time I said it.

And why should I care about nasty side effects if there exists no responsibility to my community?
posted by tkchrist at 6:32 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Then again, if you've ever purchased goods from a store you're part of the problem.

Oh. Bullshit.

It;s like from one absolutist extreme to another around here.

If I, for instance, purchase organic seeds raised by a local farmer and grow my own food and give the food to the poor I'm not part of a problem.

Can we avoid grinding every single axe we have for five seconds.
posted by tkchrist at 6:35 PM on January 10, 2010


I remember a lost sad kid who's last message to the world was, "Told you I was hardcore." It's a shame to go so far out of your way to make a joke of yourself. But I'mma let you finish.
posted by Babblesort at 6:39 PM on January 10, 2010


Some bargain retailers carry H&M merchandise and Wal-Mart brands, at least in Canada.

And I had never heard of H&M before tonight either.

And I'm sorry about all the stale muffins and cookies and suchlike I had to throw out when I was a baker.

posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:40 PM on January 10, 2010


No. You have attributed that to me from others

I didn't catch that until after I had posted, my apologies.

A desk and cutout CDs do not count as basic human necessities. I mentioned CDs because they benefitted the companies involved in my (and many similar) case(s).

In the case of food or clothes? Sorry, but rendering them unuseable rather than merely unsaleable plain and simply counts as a crime against your species.


I can only address non-necessities such as desks and CDs from first hand knowledge and assume that the same or similar logic is applied by manufacturers/distributors/retailers in regards to items such as clothing and food.

I honestly don't really care if people freeze... Some people live, and some people die, but Nature wins every hand.
In the case of food or clothes? Sorry, but rendering them unuseable rather than merely unsaleable plain and simply counts as a crime against your species.

I can't decide if your "Compassionate Nihilism" is interesting or laughable.

Personally, I say, "fuck society", and hope that society will let me die alone.


I'm pretty sure your wish will be granted.
posted by MikeMc at 6:45 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


But structurally you're still part of the problem and always will be, as am I.

Do you own a car? Here's where I self-righteously get to say I don't. I just don't pat myself on the back for it.
posted by bardic at 6:47 PM on January 10, 2010


Then please get the ball rolling and you say something worth reading.

Oh there's blood in the water now, alright...
posted by hermitosis at 6:50 PM on January 10, 2010


Oh Bardic that's just silly. Go have a beer for gods sake and relax.
posted by tkchrist at 6:50 PM on January 10, 2010



You know, I see your point. But I do believe there exists a middle ground where the clothes could be rendered unsuitable for selling on the streets and yet still sufficient to provide protection from the elements for the homeless.

It would also provide the store with some good public relations.


There's nothing here I disagree with.

Still, there seems to be a presumption that these businesses are destroying goods because they have nothing better to do, or worse, because they want people to suffer. This seems a very unlikely scenario. Moreover, there seems to be the presumption that business decisions must be answerable to self appointed moral arbiters. We've been down that road many a time. It's something most societies would do well to get away from rather than embrace.


My problem is that you stated a very bold assertion that you have not supported in the face of the reality we live. In that there does in realty exist a set of obligations we, as members of a greater society, hold. We pay for schools, sewer, water, roads, borders, police, fire protection, and military (among a great many other things) communally. You may not need repairs to your road but part of what you pay every month helps your neighbor pay for the pot hole in his.


Yes. Funny, I must be one of those big government bleeding heart Randians. I don't see any problem with taxes, welfare, social safety nets in general. Sure, I grumble about the particulars of where the money goes, but I have no fundamental problem with the system.

What I do see as a problem is the notion that Walmart, or you or I must also have some hazy community obligations, even if it cuts into our self preservation. Many folks here have presumed to know how to run Walmart and H&M better than Walmart and H&M. But this is some kool aid I'm unwilling to sip. I reserve the right to run my business as I see fit, and extend that right to the likes of Walmart.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:51 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do you own a car? Here's where I self-righteously get to say I don't. I just don't pat myself on the back for it.

Yes, keep not patting yourself on the back about that.
posted by rollbiz at 6:51 PM on January 10, 2010


I self-righteously get to say I don't. I just don't pat myself on the back for it.

I for one applaud your grand sense of humility
posted by freshundz at 6:51 PM on January 10, 2010


Nobody, not you, not me, not the local mom-and-pop store, not Walmart, is obligated to help the needy and homeless outside their tax contributions that may apply. That is the point you're missing.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:40 PM on January 10


That is true. No one is obligated to do those sorts of things. The lack of obligation does not mean that one who chooses to act and feel this way is not a world-class asshole.

I will never understand the people who feel that Ebenezer Scrooge is a role model, but their small, sad lives are a punishment unto itself.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:53 PM on January 10, 2010 [16 favorites]


You know, there are two sides here, and one of them thinks:

I honestly don't really care if people freeze [...]

There is literally nothing we can say to someone who believes this. One of the things that astonishes me about the United States is that there are so many people who simply see nothing wrong with this.

When I was young, I used to believe that such people were deeply unhappy - now I believe they're simply missing an essential part of their humanity.

These are the people who profit from war - because why not? These are the people who foul our air and water - because why not? If you feel no responsibility to your fellow man, why not kill them for profit?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:56 PM on January 10, 2010


Why aren't they selling the clothing as scap? And why are we so eager for styish clothes that all the inventory at places like H&M and Old Navy changes far more oten than the season?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:57 PM on January 10, 2010


When I was young, I used to believe that such people were deeply unhappy - now I believe they're simply missing an essential part of their humanity.

These are people who, like many corporate titans and serial murderers, have the morals of Count Dracula himself, yes.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:59 PM on January 10, 2010


I will never understand the people who feel that Ebenezer Scrooge is a role model, but their small, sad lives are a punishment unto itself.

yeah, me neither, but boy am I gonna be pissed if it turns out 2N2222 lives on Miami Beach, smokes great cigars, eats great food, reads great books, surfs every day, sleeps like a graven image and wakes up every morning with a song in his heart while here I am eating moldy turnips.

crap. I bet he is.

You are, aren't you?
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:59 PM on January 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh there's blood in the water now, alright...

THE GAUNTLET HAS BEEN THROWN!

I'll tell you something worth reading then.

I was in San Francisco last week trying to find a WiFi at a cafe. Adn there was this little old shriveled Asian man in a bright blue Snuggie going from table to table mumbling earnestly. And everybody was simply ignoring him. Next to me was a nicely dressed woman who, at regular intervals, would intone very loudly "My eyes are not my own!" and then clutch her face with her hands, claw-like. And everybody just sat going about their business pretending she wasn't there. Then the little old man in the blue Snuggie shuffled up to me, acting like he was injured, squeaking and mumbling something for me to look. At which point he lifted up his Snuggy revealing his swollen old scabby balls, covered them, and sidled off. At that moment the lady behind yelled again 'MY EYES ARE NOT MY OWN!" I made a gesture to the guy next to me like "Wow that's weird huh" chuckling. And nobody even blinked. Just clicking away on their lap tops. So I yelled "What the fuck is wrong with you people!? Didn't you see what just happened!"

Nothing. Nobody would meet my glare. A few minutes later " MY EYES ARE NOT MY OWN!"
posted by tkchrist at 7:00 PM on January 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


The point is that we should limit the damage we do as actors in a capitalist system. But to absolve yourself of any responsibility is delusional. And making cosmetic lifestyle gestures but missing the larger problems is hypocritical.
posted by bardic at 7:01 PM on January 10, 2010


I honestly don't really care if people freeze [...]


It's just macho posturing juvenile blather. Put him in front of someone freezing to death and make him sit there while it happens. He'll be reduced to a sniveling blob of snot in record time. Or it is acute pyschopathic behavior and there is no point in blaming someone for having a malfunctioning brain.
posted by Babblesort at 7:02 PM on January 10, 2010


I don't see any problem with taxes, welfare, social safety nets in general.

Well then claiming we don't have any responsibility to our communities is not only disingenuous it's hypocritical.
posted by tkchrist at 7:02 PM on January 10, 2010


And why are we so eager for styish clothes that all the inventory at places like H&M and Old Navy changes far more oten than the season?

Oh stop it. Unless anyone here is making decisions at H&M or Wal-Mart's distributor; neither you, nor I, nor we made the decision to ruin a bunch of serviceable clothing, to the detriment of the needy, based on our style preferences. Style as a concept is pushed by those who want to make sure we keep buying new clothes every year, even though we don't need to...
posted by rollbiz at 7:03 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nobody, not you, not me, not the local mom-and-pop store, not Walmart, is obligated to help the needy and homeless outside their tax contributions that may apply. That is the point you're missing.

That is true. No one is obligated to do those sorts of things.


Yet we do them, at least on a personal level, because:

A) It's the right thing to do.

B) We may someday need help ourselves and wouldn't we just feel like shit if people were selfish assholes who ignored our obvious needs after we did the same to others when we were flush.

C) Something about "paying it forward" (didn't see the movie).
posted by MikeMc at 7:03 PM on January 10, 2010


What I do see as a problem is the notion that Walmart, or you or I must also have some hazy community obligations, even if it cuts into our self preservation.

Not just custom, but law disagrees with you in much of the United States. In many cases, you are required to render assistance to other individuals in mortal danger, for example, even if there is some risk to you.

What you are perhaps not understanding is that your attitude is foreign to almost every community in almost every time and place on Earth. There are words for people who feel they have no obligation to the community and they are harsh: sociopath, antisocial personality disorder.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:04 PM on January 10, 2010


Trying to be in good keeping with the community standards, the reason you are being a troll right now is that the "do good deeds instead of posting on Metafilter" argument is the last bastion of the troll, and you also are attacking ideas without defending the refutations to yours.

But this is exactly the thing you lob at the likes of Walmart. Do good deeds instead of looking after your business model. If you're going to demand Walmart play ascetic, I feel it's your obligation to follow suit.

No shit. So does shredding synthetics and cotton fabrics and putting them in a land fill.

FWIW, dumping those things in a landfill is significantly less harmful than burning tires. But your example is a bit ridiculous, don't you think? I suppose burning all those clothes would on the sidewalk of Manhattan would be pretty objectionable, too.

but boy am I gonna be pissed if it turns out 2N2222 lives on Miami Beach, smokes great cigars, eats great food, reads great books, surfs every day, sleeps like a graven image and wakes up every morning with a song in his heart while here I am eating moldy turnips.

crap. I bet he is.

You are, aren't you?


You're so close, it's scary.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:06 PM on January 10, 2010


Wow, there's so much I want to say in response to this issue and this thread and the conduct of its participants but here's the one thing I can't let go.

>>I honestly don't really care if people freeze [...]

There is literally nothing we can say to someone who believes this. One of the things that astonishes me about the United States is that there are so many people who simply see nothing wrong with this.


pla is the one who said this, and he has argued WITH the position that the stores should have given away the clothes.

It's one thing to mischaracterize 2N2222's opinions but do not put words in his mouth.
posted by ctab at 7:07 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


A) It's the right thing to do.

B) We may someday need help ourselves and wouldn't we just feel like shit if people were selfish assholes who ignored our obvious needs after we did the same to others when we were flush.

C) Something about "paying it forward" (didn't see the movie).


Good for you. Just don't ask me to follow your moral code.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:08 PM on January 10, 2010


But this is exactly the thing you lob at the likes of Walmart. Do good deeds instead of looking after your business model.

The point tkchrist and others have repeatedly tried to make is that giving away the clothes in no way negatively effects Walmart's business, and in fact the PR would probably increase their business. The fact that they chose to destroy the clothes rather than give them away to the needy at almost no cost to themselves is what it makes this evil.
posted by Lobster Garden at 7:10 PM on January 10, 2010


Can we just stop feeding the troll now?
posted by rollbiz at 7:10 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


MikeMc : I can't decide if your "Compassionate Nihilism" is interesting or laughable.

If it helps you to decide, "ad hominem" fails to validate.

And I don't consider my idea all that bizarre: I don't particularly care about your fate; That said, I don't specifically wish you ill. If you can live off my garbage - If I can make your life noticeably better by tossing you the change I consider less of an annoyance in the "take a penny" dish than in my pocket - If my hand-me-downs (or unsellable merchandise) can keep you alive - Why the fuck would I grudge you that? Have my pennies, my old/unsellable sweater, by past-its-prime banannas, And I wish you the best with them, totally sincerely; good luck, and good riddance.


lupus_yonderboy : : You know, there are two sides here, and one of them thinks

And you'll note that I appear to take your side in this one. I don't want people to suffer, I just accept that it happens and don't let the specifics keep me up at night. If I can decrease the statistics, however, without inconvenience, then sign me up!

Pay attention before using me as an example.


Babblesort : Or it is acute pyschopathic behavior and there is no point in blaming someone for having a malfunctioning brain.

I don't consider accepting reality a "malfunction"... Indeed, I'd call denying it the abberant condition. And yet, I still see no reason to increase suffering rather than allowing others to find some solace in my cast-offs.


Good to see that we all actually read the topic, rather than jump on a choice phrase.
posted by pla at 7:10 PM on January 10, 2010



crap. I bet he is.

You are, aren't you?

You're so close, it's scary.


Rush, is that you? Got an 80 you can spare (or even a 40)?
posted by MikeMc at 7:10 PM on January 10, 2010


2N2222, if (as you imply above) you are yourself a business owner, would you mind telling us know what your business is? If you'd rather not identify it, would you mind letting all of us know why? Thanks in advance!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:11 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


("telling us know" is indeed an acceptable poncey phrase go look it up you rigorous fucks)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:12 PM on January 10, 2010


So this is pretty shitty. Then again, if you've ever purchased goods from a store you're part of the problem.

Exactly. That's why I steal everything.

Now, do I have a right to criticize those aspects of capitalism that I find repugnant and unjust? Thank you.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:14 PM on January 10, 2010


Just this and I'm through addressing you. Acknowledging that people freeze is accepting reality. Not caring is psychopathic. Good luck in the world, you're gonna need it.
posted by Babblesort at 7:17 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


OOPS... sorry pla, I misread. Though, now I'm reading your comment again I'm confused as to how it works... but, think I should stop talking instead....
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:18 PM on January 10, 2010


2N2222, I think something like this is the gold standard of what people envision when they talk about successful business managing to accommodate social responsibility. Malden Mills is a pretty small operation, comparatively speaking, but they're not a wide-eyed, naive, economically doomed new business. they are the manufacturer of PolarTec, the supplier for all the fleece clothing vendors using that brand.

not everybody can do what this guy did. OTOH, it turns out that a lot of the lean and mean practices of the 90s, a la Chainsaw Al Dunlap, were a big pile of shit. remember when they found all that ordered and shipped Sunbeam merch in a warehouse? laying off all those employees didn't fix their balance sheets. pretending to have sold millions of dollars more stuff than they actually did fixed their balance sheets.

basically, all we're saying is that not only is it possible for successful businesses to be community-oriented, it is frequently a contributor to their success. efforts and arguments to the contrary usually result in short term gains and longer term slumps.

that's what I've got. whatta you got?
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:18 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh stop it. Unless anyone here is making decisions at H&M or Wal-Mart's distributor; neither you, nor I, nor we made the decision to ruin a bunch of serviceable clothing, to the detriment of the needy, based on our style preferences. Style as a concept is pushed by those who want to make sure we keep buying new clothes every year, even though we don't need to...

Hou 'bout this? Unless anyone here is making decisions at H&M or Wal-Mart's distributor; neither you, nor I, you are not in a position to make any moral judgments about their business decisions.

Not just custom, but law disagrees with you in much of the United States. In many cases, you are required to render assistance to other individuals in mortal danger, for example, even if there is some risk to you.

This doesn't sound quite correct to me. It's a very interesting discussion in itself.


What you are perhaps not understanding is that your attitude is foreign to almost every community in almost every time and place on Earth. There are words for people who feel they have no obligation to the community and they are harsh: sociopath, antisocial personality disorder.


As far as I can see, this is irrelevant. The way I see it, I view my obligation to my self preservation as my contribution to the community.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:18 PM on January 10, 2010


The point tkchrist and others have repeatedly tried to make is that giving away the clothes in no way negatively effects Walmart's business

How do yo know this?
posted by 2N2222 at 7:19 PM on January 10, 2010


What I do see as a problem is the notion that Walmart, or you or I must also have some hazy community obligations, even if it cuts into our self preservation.

Again, I see your point. At the end of the day, self preservation is everybody's first priority and charity is not obligatory. And, in fact, I wonder if those who are piling on with the moralizing here would be willing to potentially compromise themselves for the sake of charity.

Having said that, I do think that in this particular instance a mutually beneficial solution exists, and in that case- why not take the opportunity to be of further assistance to your community?
posted by freshundz at 7:19 PM on January 10, 2010


basically, all we're saying is that not only is it possible for successful businesses to be community-oriented, it is frequently a contributor to their success. efforts and arguments to the contrary usually result in short term gains and longer term slumps.

I don't disagree.

But it's up to the businesses themselves to make that decision.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:23 PM on January 10, 2010


2N222, without obligations to each other, we aren't a community, we're a bunch of people living near one another. The word "community" implies some sort of shared goals. A common purpose. It's good for me if my neighbors do well, and vice-versa. I can't believe this is something that has to be explained, so I am going to have to assume you're trolling.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:23 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was in San Francisco last week trying to find a WiFi at a cafe. Adn there was this little old shriveled Asian man in a bright blue Snuggie going from table to table mumbling earnestly. And everybody was simply ignoring him. Next to me was a nicely dressed woman who, at regular intervals, would intone very loudly "My eyes are not my own!" and then clutch her face with her hands, claw-like. And everybody just sat going about their business pretending she wasn't there. Then the little old man in the blue Snuggie shuffled up to me, acting like he was injured, squeaking and mumbling something for me to look. At which point he lifted up his Snuggy revealing his swollen old scabby balls, covered them, and sidled off. At that moment the lady behind yelled again 'MY EYES ARE NOT MY OWN!" I made a gesture to the guy next to me like "Wow that's weird huh" chuckling. And nobody even blinked. Just clicking away on their lap tops. So I yelled "What the fuck is wrong with you people!? Didn't you see what just happened!"

Man, that had potential to be the best '... and NOW you knoww... the REST of the stoRY.' ever, but now I'm just titillated and confused.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:25 PM on January 10, 2010


If you're going to demand Walmart play ascetic, I feel it's your obligation to follow suit.

I donate my used clothes to charity instead of cutting them up and throwing them in the trash. The business I work for donates material to a charity that it could simply sell to a scrap dealer. It is very impressive that you don't agree with the idea of charitable giving, and we all feel that you are a brave, bold individual who plays by his own rules. Thank you for making this thread better.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:26 PM on January 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Hou 'bout this? Unless anyone here is making decisions at H&M or Wal-Mart's distributor; neither you, nor I, you are not in a position to make any moral judgments about their business decisions.

You're making arguments about a comment that I made that wasn't even in reply to you rather than dealing with all of the holes in your own argument. Until you can address this, or the myriad of other refutations people have made, I really have no interest in playing along with you anymore, because you're being a troll.
posted by rollbiz at 7:29 PM on January 10, 2010


As far as I can see, this is irrelevant. The way I see it, I view my obligation to my self preservation as my contribution to the community.

Really? Your obligation to self-preservation is so all-consuming that you have no time or resources available for additional community activities or contributions?

How inefficient of you.
posted by rtha at 7:32 PM on January 10, 2010



The point tkchrist and others have repeatedly tried to make is that giving away the clothes in no way negatively effects Walmart's business

How do yo know this?


How much can it cost to drive the unneeded clothes to local homeless shelters and charities? Also, see again the comments about the positive PR this would bring to the company.
posted by Lobster Garden at 7:32 PM on January 10, 2010


OMG LIBERTARIANS! GUARDS! SEIZE THEM!
posted by Scoo at 7:33 PM on January 10, 2010


2N222, without obligations to each other, we aren't a community, we're a bunch of people living near one another. The word "community" implies some sort of shared goals. A common purpose. It's good for me if my neighbors do well, and vice-versa. I can't believe this is something that has to be explained, so I am going to have to assume you're trolling.

Maybe the whole idea of "community" is on trial here. I have no particular interest in the business of my neighbors, or beyond. As far as I can tell, most folks around here are busy getting on with their lives without my intervention just fine. As a common goal, that works for me. If my neighbor was in need of help, I'd do what I can. I'd like to think folks wouldn't begrudge me if I didn't mortgage my house in the effort, though.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:34 PM on January 10, 2010



I donate my used clothes to charity instead of cutting them up and throwing them in the trash.


So do I. But then again, I'm not in the business of selling used clothes.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:36 PM on January 10, 2010


You're making arguments about a comment that I made that wasn't even in reply to you rather than dealing with all of the holes in your own argument. Until you can address this, or the myriad of other refutations people have made, I really have no interest in playing along with you anymore, because you're being a troll.

Now who's being evasive?
posted by 2N2222 at 7:37 PM on January 10, 2010


“We use a method of ‘defacing’ each garment that does not impair its wearability, but does remove any potential street value in the underground market.”

Impossible.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:38 PM on January 10, 2010



Really? Your obligation to self-preservation is so all-consuming that you have no time or resources available for additional community activities or contributions?


Unfortunately for your point, I never said this.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:39 PM on January 10, 2010


Have my pennies, my old/unsellable sweater, by past-its-prime banannas, And I wish you the best with them, totally sincerely; good luck, and good riddance.


Why thank you so much for the cake crumbs Miss Antoinette!

If I can decrease the statistics, however, without inconvenience, then sign me up!

Well, that's mighty white of you.
posted by MikeMc at 7:40 PM on January 10, 2010


How much can it cost to drive the unneeded clothes to local homeless shelters and charities?

I don't know. Do you?

Also, see again the comments about the positive PR this would bring to the company.

I've seen them, and agreed.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:41 PM on January 10, 2010


So does giving away merchandise hurt the bottom line? Have there been studies on this?
pla, I think it was you who wrote about Newbury Comics - did giving away their merchandise help their bottom line? If so, how?

I wonder if all these companies are destroying their unsold merchandise, is it because they are scared the value of their stuff will go down?

Say I own a clothing store and at the end of the month I donate my stuff to charity. One of several things can happen.

1) I get a good reputation and get good PR
2) My brand gets associated with clothes you can pick up at a charity
3) Some enterprising person picks up all my stuff in bulk from the charity stores and starts to sell my brand of a makeshift stand downtown.

I think a lot of people are worried about 3 - which makes no sense, really, but here might be the rationale - "why should some guy get to make a profit on the products that I worked so hard to design, develop and market?"

It's funny, we're so worried about getting "conned" by someone who doesn't "need" the charity, that we are willing to give up on charity altogether, willing to ignore the remaining 95% of the people that probably do need it.

How many times have we heard, "I dont give to charity - I don't know where the money is going - they're just going to use it to buy alcohol - I work hard for my money - etc."

Not trying to lecture here - Lord knows I'm guilty of the same thinking - but it's this fear of being taking for a fool, to give something to someone who may not deserve it - it really limits our progress as a society as a whole.
posted by bitteroldman at 7:41 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


2N2222, I think something like this is the gold standard of what people envision when they talk about successful business managing to accommodate social responsibility.

Wow, perhaps Malden Mills could donate some money to OPI to hire a web designer.
posted by MikeMc at 7:44 PM on January 10, 2010


FWIW, dumping those things in a landfill is significantly less harmful than burning tires.

Irrelevant and obtuse.

You stated you that WalMart and yourself have the right to do with your business as you please.

But you do not have this right.

Not long ago businesses COULD burn tires. Business could dump mercury into water. Each and every one of those businesses fought, using the exact same untenable argument you have, that they bear no responsibility to their community.

This si the fact you have conveniently ignored and it is the gaping hole in your argument.

You have stated repeated, though inconsistently in light of your statement you are "fine" with taxation, that businesses OR individuals bear no obligation to their communities.

It therefore must be your contention that these business had the right to dump toxic materials into the larger community with out consequence. And that I have have the right to burn tires (law not withstanding for sake of the argument) regardless of how bad the impact is.

You may say that this dumping was also a harm to the businesses. And stopping is self interested. You'd be right. But not immediately. the rich owners of these businesses lived far away from the results of their harmful practices. And were immune to them for a long time. And it's extremely shitty then to say self interest should trump everything and it only matters when harm you do effects you. That is sociopathic and frankly the position of the worst sorts of scumbags on the planet.

The scope of the impact is irrelevant since when toxic dumping WAS legal people did not understand or even agree to the scope of the impact of dumping toxic materials. Just as we now may not fully appreciate the impact of dumping textiles in land fills. But they knew enough to see the beginning of the impact to communities around them to know that stopping dumping toxic waste increased good and limited harm. Even though it cost them profits. And we can say as a community that the waste of dumping textiles is a harm we can do without even though in the short term it may cost Walmart to fix. Just like not dumping toxic waste cost those earlier industries. The scope of each harm is only valuable in determining the urgency of dealing with the problem, not that it should be dealt with at all.

I'm not sure you are capable of understanding the deeper implications of your own argument, let alone ours.

You've shot your own argument down by reversing yourself and saying you think taxation is okay. If you were even remotely consistent you would not pay your taxes. Since clearly taxes are a both an individual and corporate responsibility to a larger community.

Any way I'm done. I don't think you have given a seconds thought to what you are saying. Let alone what we are.
posted by tkchrist at 7:45 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: one absolutist extreme to another
posted by bwg at 7:49 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


rollbiz: Until you can address this, or the myriad of other refutations people have made, I really have no interest in playing along with you anymore, because you're being a troll.

2N2222: Now who's being evasive?


That would be you.
posted by rollbiz at 7:54 PM on January 10, 2010


Sorry tkchrist. I was assuming you would extend some reasonableness to my argument that I could conduct my business as I see fit, more or less within the law. Not as an absolute.

I suppose dumping does some harm to the environment. I do have a hard time faulting Walmart for this, however.

I don't get why I should oppose taxation. In utopia, I might oppose taxes. In the real world, it doesn't matter one way or the other. Even if I opposed, the government has more power to force me to pay. As such, it's a bit more than a responsibility. If I want to stay out of jail, I kind of have to pay.

But all of this is beside the point. Frankly, I think your response is off the rails here.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:57 PM on January 10, 2010


3) Some enterprising person picks up all my stuff in bulk from the charity stores and starts to sell my brand of a makeshift stand downtown.

I think a lot of people are worried about 3 - which makes no sense, really, but here might be the rationale - "why should some guy get to make a profit on the products that I worked so hard to design, develop and market?"


in our arguments we keep swinging nearer and nearer to a similar problem - counterfeit designer clothing and the huge pirate market for same. companies spend an asspile of money fighting brand piracy, mostly for one of two reasons.

why they don't do it - to keep from losing sales to all those people buying the counterfeit stuff. they know they're not selling clothes to those folks. when a kate spade bag costs $3,000 and a fake one costs $50, you are not talking about the same markets. and the people who would spend $3k on the real thing are not buying fakes.

why they *do* do it - to keep the huge pool of people wearing fake shit out in public from diluting their trademark and scaring off the folks who can and will pay for the real thing.

it's also why I made the Ab-Fab crack higher up in the thread. Edina doesn't want to see poor people wearing out of style LaCroix because she thinks it's sad. bet it's safe to say the folks at LaCroix think so too - for them.

so, does it excessively dilute the brand for destitute homeless people to wear out of season H & M?
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:58 PM on January 10, 2010


It's funny, we're so worried about getting "conned" by someone who doesn't "need" the charity, that we are willing to give up on charity altogether, willing to ignore the remaining 95% of the people that probably do need it.

I'm telling you some people are just sharks. Did ya ever see those big donation bins for shoes and clothes? Yeah, they were selling the stuff people donated (and not in a Goodwill/Salvation Army kinda way). I'm telling you sometimes I think that for every person trying to do good there's ten people trying to make a buck off of people's compassion.
posted by MikeMc at 7:59 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anecdata: Various jobs that I have had have included the destruction of perfectly good items for various reasons. I know this is late in the thread, but what the heck.

-I worked for a while as a manager of a shoe store in a chain called Regal Shoes. Once a month the district manager would come by and check the returns. Many shoes were near new, except for scuffing on the soles and could not be resold. We would compare them to stock. Back then the store policy was to give refunds even without a receipt because we knew they were our shoes by the stock number stamped on the insole. Often people would wear expensive shoes, say for a wedding, and return them.

If they were smart, they would put tape on the soles of the shoes so that there would be no wear marks. But a new show would get bend marks on the upper. You could tell a shoe that had been worn. This was before computers. So they were careful to destroy the shoes.

-I worked for 5 years as a "janitor" in the Empire State Building in New York. I worked on the loading dock at night for a couple of years. The ESB is full of clothing manufacturer's main offices. (Or at least it was then) We would get bags of garbage from all the floors and have to sort through them for paper and cardboard to be put into the compacter. We would then separate the rest into food garbage and "other stuff".

I own a full length Cashmere coat that I got from a garbage bag. As well I have gotten hundreds of expensive items from the trash thrown out from the "floors".

The thing that I learned there is that you can remove the stamp that says "sample, no value" quite easily with a spot remover.

The reason for that to be scrawled on a clothing item is that if it's sent from overseas, shipping it as a "sample" means that it has no value and doesn't need to be insured.

Other items had holes punched in them , or cuts to make them worthless.

I have several leather vests that had a single button missing from them. That made them "worthless". I found matching buttons.

The Cashmere coat had the lining ripped. My drycleaner replaced it for $5.

I think the term that I'm looking for is "conspicuous consumption".

-When I worked as a night baker for the Red Apple supermarket in lower Manhattan, I saw hundreds of pounds of perfectly good food tossed into a dumpster and the wet with a hose, to make garbage soup.

I don't have a dog in this race. But I think that the concepts of the management that I worked (each time) with could have used a few tweaks.

IMHO the conspicuous consumption of the people that I worked with and for, could have been turned around. With minimal out of pocket expenses. And indeed they could have helped their market share by making it a spectacle.

"We are giving back to the community!"

Fucking shortsighted idiots.
posted by Splunge at 7:59 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks for explaining the Ab-Fab reference. I know of the show, but have never seen it.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:00 PM on January 10, 2010


These are people who, like many corporate titans and serial murderers, have the morals of Count Dracula himself, yes.

I, myself, have the morals of Count Chocula.
posted by KingEdRa at 8:01 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


How do yo know this?

Because it logically follows from an examination of the evidence? Nobody is claiming it as an empirical law of the universe, but it seems pretty fucking obvious,
posted by odinsdream at 8:04 PM on January 10, 2010


I think the best argument that Wal-Mart is not ethically obligated to change its clothing practices is the systemic one: our capitalist system depends on the greed of individual companies. Companies have an ethical responsibility to maximize profits for their shareholders. This desire for profit is what allocates capital to its best use, grows the economy, produces innovation, increases prosperity over time.

If deviations must be made from the profit-maximizing decision, arguably it would be inefficient and arbitrary for each company to figure out individually where to draw the line between its ethical duty of maximizing shareholder profit and some notion of community good. Government, through regulation and taxation, should draw that line. Otherwise, business managers are put in awkward positions, shareholder decisions about where to invest become much harder and growth slows, and, most ironically, the businesses that try to do the most good to the community become the least profitable and probably lose their staying power in the marketplace.

So for example you could argue that throwing away the clothing has certain negative externalities for which the market doesn't account; in this case, the government should explicitly tax the behavior. In a larger sense it may actually hurt the community if businesses were to sacrifice profit to act with normal human kindness (though obviously the issue of PR
posted by shivohum at 8:06 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


err the issue of PR affects what is and isn't profitable behavior.
posted by shivohum at 8:07 PM on January 10, 2010


How much can it cost to drive the unneeded clothes to local homeless shelters and charities?

I don't know. Do you?


Uh, the cost of gas plus the cost of paying an employee the time to drive? It is inconceivable that it would be a major expense unworthy of the company's effort. Consider again that this could mean the difference between life and death for homeless people trapped in the winter weather. The pros clearly outweigh the cons. When you value the almighty dollar more than a human being's life, there is something very wrong.

That said, you are continuing to be willfully obtuse and so I will bow out of this discussion as well.
posted by Lobster Garden at 8:10 PM on January 10, 2010



I suppose dumping does some harm to the environment. I do have a hard time faulting Walmart for this, however.


You acknowledge that something Wal-Mart is doing causes harm... but you have a hard time faulting them for it.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:11 PM on January 10, 2010


Because it logically follows from an examination of the evidence? Nobody is claiming it as an empirical law of the universe, but it seems pretty fucking obvious,

Actually, it seems anything but obvious. Destroying what seems to be perfectly good merchandise makes little sense from an outsider's point of view. As such, it seems likely that there probably is a pretty good reason to do this. A reason, I might add, to which nobody here seems privy.


Uh, the cost of gas plus the cost of paying an employee the time to drive?


It seems likely that they feel there is more to it than this. For whatever reason, they deem it necessary to destroy merchandise rather than donate it. If you insist that the cost of fuel and a driver is the only cost of getting the merchandise to the charity, you are saying you have some knowledge about the situation that we don't.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:16 PM on January 10, 2010


They could've saved a lot of shipping expenses and CO2 emissions by just letting the Chinese workers keep the clothes they make.

Hey, it gets cold in China, too.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:17 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


You acknowledge that something Wal-Mart is doing causes harm... but you have a hard time faulting them for it.

Yes, because everyone I know utilizes landfills to some degree. Walmart is doing the same thing every other business and individual does.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:19 PM on January 10, 2010


Jacob Marley: In life, my spirit never rose beyond the limits of our money-changing holes! Now I am doomed to wander without rest or peace, incessant torture and remorse!
Ebenezer: But it was only that you were a good man of business, Jacob!
Jacob Marley: BUSINESS? Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business! And it is at this time of the rolling year that I suffer most!
posted by wv kay in ga at 8:22 PM on January 10, 2010


Metafilter: has certain negative externalities.
posted by Splunge at 8:23 PM on January 10, 2010


Jacob Marley: BUSINESS? Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business!
Ebenezer: By the way, those chains are quality.
Jacob Marley: Well thanks, I crafted them myself, link by link.
Ebenezer: Nice. Any other ghosts where you are?
Jacob Marley: Many!
Ebenezer: What does it cost?
Jacob Marley: Our souls!
Ebenezer: Okay I'm going to write a number on this paper...
posted by Splunge at 8:29 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


One of my duties as a lowly stockboy at a midwestern retail chain most of you probably never heard of (back in the dark ages when Ronald Reagan was commander in chief) was rendering merchandise unusable that couldn't be restocked for whatever reason. There were no bones made about the fact that this was to keep people from dumpster-diving merchandise instead of purchasing it. Discussions of the abstract ethics of this seem pretty specious to me. The people pushing this story are looking to make it a PR mess for the stores concerned in the service of diverting some badly needed merchandise from the landfill to people who desperately need it. These stores live by manipulating their public image and I'm supposed to feel bad for them if they get beaten at their own game in aid of some severely destitute people? Fuck WalMart and the rest of them.
posted by nanojath at 8:31 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


H+M reversed their policy here. Hooray!

Also, to add another perspective to this argument, I thought this comment from Reddit was interesting:
I used to work with a large pastry/cafe chain, and had the chance to chat with a couple of the higher-ups and asked about charitable donations or such-- since it would look good for the company, apparently they tried it and it turned out to be a catastrophic failure for the following reasons:

Lawsuits and PR: If they were to pass out food at the end of the day that goes unsold, the quality would be lower than what they sell. If the product is in any way subpar, they are 100% at risk to lawsuits (yes, people who take free stuff are just as likely to sue as people who pay for it). This has apparently happened time and again to the point that companies just realized it's too much trouble. People are people, and amongst all the down-on-their luck homeless folks there will be a few people looking to make a quick buck. Even if they don't sue, if someone were to get sick, it would create an absolute PR nightmare.

Two-tiered product: Passing out free food while also selling it creates a two-tiered product system and would immediately create an image from the consumers that tie the brand to homelessness. This would not only scare away consumers, it would undo the millions of advertising dollars from even just one store doing so. What happens is that people who pay for the product 10 minutes before it gets taken out back will think "hey, there's no difference between the free product that they're taking and the one I just paid two bucks for-- I guess this product is not worth as much as I thought". The perceived value will go down if not handled carefully.

Distribution: If they want to make it official for stores to distribute free food, they would need an official distribution format. They can't just open the back door every night and have people come pick through the trash. This means you would need to create an official form of distribution-- someone to bring the pastries to a charity, for instance. They would need to regulate this on a large scale: which charities do you go to? How much food is required? The ideal amount of waste for any business is 0, so you would have to now calculate in an amount to give to charity every day, meaning lost revenue. On top of which, you need to pay drivers, managers, and an entire chain of people just to regulate something that didn't cost you a cent to begin with.

Competition and Resell issues: Literally, giving out the same product for free means you are competing with yourself. I don't need to explain why this is bad. The second fear is that if it's not regulated properly, there's a good chance that people will take the free food and resell it under the same brand. Not only will this greatly damage your brand (since they're selling subpar food), bring you PR risks (if they eat a 2-day old product and get sick, it's still your brand), but you generate zero profit while having to deal with more competition.

Most people have the idea that: "hey, it doesn't cost you anything to give away all this free stuff, you were going to throw it away anyway!". The truth is that it's actually quite expensive for companies to do so, and the amount of risks far outrank the PR they might get. Instead, they'll take the money and fund certain charities.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:33 PM on January 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


2N2222, I don't think anyone here is arguing that Wal-Mart has a *legal* obligation to leave their discarded clothing intact. Maybe they *should*, since homeless people depend on trash for a good portion of their livelihood, and destroying useful trash like this will make a lot of homeless people die needlessly. But they don't. Nobody is arguing that they do.

Moral obligation is... perhaps a bit of a misleading term to describe Wal-Mart's failure here. To be "obliged" you need to be obliged *to* someone, and the only authorities Wal-Mart is obliged to are the government and its customers, which seems to exclude the homeless people getting clothes from Wal-Mart's dumpsters. I suppose, if you are a theist, you might think they're obliged to God, but that's neither here nor there.

However, shredding these coats was a bad idea. Assuming that Wal-Mart's employees generally value human life and would prefer for people to live instead of die, it's to their benefit to give clothes away. Normally they can't, because Wal-Mart is a business that has to make a profit. But in this case an opportunity presented itself. They had clothes they couldn't sell. The best thing to do with them would have been to give them away. Instead, they cut them up. That's a bad choice.

Yes, I'm passing judgment on a business's behavior even though I wasn't there and don't know what it was like. People do that all the time. If we didn't, laws wouldn't get made.

I think I'd like a law forbidding this kind of behavior. A lot of people would benefit from it.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:40 PM on January 10, 2010


zerobyproxy: I knew a guy who bought clothes from a Goodwill like charity, by the ton, ran them through a baler and sold the clothes, by the cargo container, in Africa.

There's a documentary for that.
posted by intermod at 8:43 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I'm not understanding here is exactly how destroyed the clothes were. It talks about 'slashes across the body and arms' and so on, but it sounds like any of this stuff would still help avoid freezing to death. Why aren't homeless people taking it anyway? Worst case it seems like you should still be able to sleep more comfortably on a pile of clothing scraps than not.
posted by jacalata at 8:44 PM on January 10, 2010


Lawsuits and PR:

In California, at least, the donation of perishable and prepared foods is liability-free. This obviously varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Two-tiered product:

In my (extremely limited!) experience, this isn't true. I worked at Whole Foods and the Food Runners truck came daily. As far as I know, every department that dealt with perishable or prepared foods would wrap stuff up for Food Runners, but most stuff came from prepared foods and bakery and went to someplace that served food to the homeless.

When I worked at WF, there was one store in San Francisco. Now there are four. Brand dilution (and the subsequent fleeing of customers) doesn't seem to have been a problem.

Again, this is only my experience, and it's about food rather than clothes, which are obviously different products and markets.
posted by rtha at 8:52 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


H&M has stated that this is not standard policy for them.  And after all this attention you can bet any managers who did this as unofficial policy will realize what a career-limiting move it would be.  The problem is that, unless this is codified, future managers coming in from other retail backgrounds may well repeat the same behaviour.  That's why I like to see companies putting their money where their mouth is, and talk about their policies on waste, environmental responsibility etc. in their mission statements.

The comments in this article indicate that H&M employees are being rallied to the company's defense on Facebook.  
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:53 PM on January 10, 2010


Hooray for H&M reversing their position! A little negative press helped push them in a direction that may save some lives. Awesome.


2N2 - You seem extremely concerned with staking down very precise lines here. I think what's frustrating people is that you're consistently arguing about what's legal, and they're arguing about what's moral.

Let's assume, for a moment, that Wal-Mart loses money for donating clothes to charity rather than destroying them. Let's even assume that they could go out of business because of it, depriving the community of Wal-Mart jobs.

The point a lot of people are making is that we have laws which make things tough for businesses (don't pollute, pay minimum wage, don't kidnap kids, whatevs), and perhaps make certain types of businesses completely unviable. However, most of us agree that the world is generally better for these laws, regardless of the collateral damage on businesses. There's no legal child prostitution businesses in the U.S., and I'm certain those would have generated some volume of revenue which we don't see right now (because they don't exist). They are, quite literally, legislated out of existence.

Anyway, the point I'm making is that we DO a number of laws with forbid morally repugnant things, and for the most part, the wheels of business keep turning. The reason this is such a hot-button issue for people is because lives are at stake. I don't think here would cry if Wal-Mart went out of business because they were forced to donate clothes to homeless people. Whether or not they go out of business is a completely separate issue.
posted by ®@ at 8:57 PM on January 10, 2010


I was not aware of the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (text of act here). Is there an equivalent law for clothing?

So as mentioned above, this doesn't translate well to clothing because clothes don't go bad the way food does; however, it seems like there ought to be other ways to provide incentives to donate, rather than destroy, old merchandise. Are there already tax credits for the sort of thing? If not, perhaps there should be - although I noticed the comment early in the thread about how this sort of thing can create a lot of extra paperwork that keeps it from being especially worthwhile. Hmm. I'm sort of just thinking out loud here, but there's got to be ways to address this beyond just telling WalMart et. al. what jerks they are (not that I would deny that they are jerks).
posted by naoko at 9:00 PM on January 10, 2010


I could conduct my business as I see fit, more or less within the law.

Dude. I am completely at a loss how to communicate with you. It could be me entirely. But for don't you get the basic point that dumping toxic waste used to be TOTALLY LEGAL. But yet it was still, even when it was completely legal, a harm to the community. This harm exists outside law. So does the responsibility. The law merely enforces responsibility.

Even when it was legal there SHOULD have—and DID in moral terms— existed a responsibility to the community. There does exist a responsibility to the community at large outside the law and outside your immediate self interest. Therefor if you agree that dumping toxic waste is bad and corporations should be held accountable for it then you agree this idea of responsibility exists.

What is so hard about this to understand? Am I not clear? Is it just me here? For fuck sake. It's not the existential of a concept.
posted by tkchrist at 9:01 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


®@:

I understand the moral argument. But your morals are not mine, and mine are not Walmart's. I say it's morally repugnant for you to push your morals on me. Especially when the particulars are not known, which may well change the moral equation. If H&M want to change their mind, good on them.

tkchrist:

You're arguing some extreme situations that I never mentioned. If you want to equate toxic waste dumping with destroying one's goods at some moral level, have at it.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:14 PM on January 10, 2010


I understand the moral argument. But your morals are not mine

What, um. ARE yours. Exactly.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:31 PM on January 10, 2010


>:
I understand the moral argument. But your morals are not mine, and mine are not Walmart's. I say it's morally repugnant for you to push your morals on me.


It's one of those people again. Funny how they never seem to have more than 100 comments.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:34 PM on January 10, 2010


About 30 years ago I worked for a "Fancy Department Store" that put its label on every item of clothing that was sold. This store did donate unsellable clothing to the local Goodwill. These were brand new clothes, not a thing wrong with them. The sewn in tags were marked in red ink with a small "X".

People would return these marked items to our store and demand a refund, they claimed the clothes were received as a gift, hence no receipt. The management knew by the red X that the clothes had been donated. They would point out the X to the customer who was now throwing a fit stating that their mother, aunt, or brother would never buy clothing from Goodwill, but to keep the "good will" of the customers, they were given refunds.

One manager had the idea of cutting out the sewn in label before donating the clothes. We spent hours cutting out the labels and packing up the clothes for donation. Soon clothing was being returned that were missing the labels. The customers would claim that they cut the label out themselves because it was bothering their necks. Again the "Customer is always right" prevailed and refunds were issued.

The upper management deemed that it was too costly to donate the clothing. We were buying back a large percentage of our donated clothes. So the clothes went into the dumpster. The clothing was being stolen out of the dumpsters and again was being returned to the store for refunds.

Our new policy was to spray the clothing with a bright lime green paint before putting them in the dumpster. None of these were returned...
posted by JujuB at 9:47 PM on January 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


Further anecdata: When I worked as a min wage security guard at Poly Prep in Brooklyn, we got regular deliveries of quality bread loaves from a local bakery. They were in the usual tall brown bags. They were brought through the back gate to the guard shack there.

We were supposed to give them to the ducks and geese that lived in the ponds on campus.

But first we'd take a couple of loaves for ourselves.

That shit was quality. And not yet a day old.

Then the fowl got them. Huge crusty loaves of bread. I used to tear them into little pieces to feed the ducks. My boss showed me how to do it. He threw these heavy loaves of bread AT the ducks. If he got one to squack because he hit it in the head, he would laugh.

I quit soon after. $5 an hour to watch someone torture animals was not what i was paid for.
posted by Splunge at 9:49 PM on January 10, 2010


I have a friend who's a hardcore libertarian. Arguments around the old wargaming table end up a lot like this thread. Mostly he just enjoys smirking and refusing to change his mind. I make it a policy to stay on the sidelines and periodically make puns and throwaway gags.

Oddly, despite everyone being distracted but me, I still almost never win. I blame the dice.
posted by Scattercat at 9:53 PM on January 10, 2010


When I was in college, I worked at a tourist trap in the French Quarter, owned by one of the biggest assholes I've met in my life. Almost everyone thinks their boss is the worst, but this guy was rude, a miser, made crude passes at all of the female employees and at several points threatened physical violence (to male and female employees). Also, I have reason to suspect that he was involved in organized crime. So... yeah. Bad guy. Add on the pure horror of working on Bourbon Street, and...

*has flashback*

I got to the point one day where I was ready to quit. No other jobs lined up, just... about to snap. That day my boss comes in with brand new cash registers in boxes... and a crowbar in his hand. He tells me to set up the new registers, then bring the old registers out to the back courtyard and destroy them with the crowbar. "So no one else can use them."

So I take them out back and go all Office Space on them. I destroyed the FUCK out of them, and it felt really, really good. I didn't quit that day.

I was so blinded by that catharsis that I didn't realize for several weeks just how assholish it was to destroy perfectly functional equipment, specifically so that no one else could use it. That's when I quit.
posted by brundlefly at 10:16 PM on January 10, 2010


I can see some of what 2N2222 is saying, honestly. We all do what Wal-Mart does, it's just more obvious with them because of scale.

grumblebee said: You're starving to death. I have food that that I own. Instead of giving it to you, I throw it in trash. I could have easily saved your life, but I chose not to.

I threw out food today; omelet scraps and extra diced green onion. Out there, someone is starving. I would be surprised if anyone here didn't throw out any food.

It's -30 Celsius or so right now. I am living in a three bedroom house with my wife and there are homeless in this city.

Earlier I pissed in potable water, for crying out loud.

I've spend money on stupid stuff, in effect "throwing it away", while others go hungry and cold.

It's hard for me personally to hold anyone to task for waste.
posted by ODiV at 10:37 PM on January 10, 2010 [10 favorites]


Internet libertarians generate choking quantities of smug if you talk about moral obligations. It's their primary fuel source. They make controversial statements hinting at an unconventional set of ethics, other people insist at probing its limits and end up flinging accusations animated by varying degrees of righteous indignation, and they sit back and bask in the attention.

Basically, referring back to foundational moral assumptions when your opponent's whole shtick is denying them is a pointless and extremely frustrating. But turnabout is fair play, right?

2N2222: All property 'rights' exist only because we, as citizens of this nation, have deemed them useful conceits in advancing our collective wellbeing, and, like any privilege, are subject to revision or revocation if we feel they are being misused. Eminent domain, environmental and zoning regulations, property forfeiture laws, and even taxation generally should indicate to you that whatever absurd fantasies you hold about the nature of property are not shared by country as a whole (which, by the way, has near absolute power over your very life).

So yes, even assuming complete sociopathy on behalf of H&M's decision makers, it would remain in their interest to curb their practices to fall within the moral parameters laid out by the larger society lest their deviance inspire the nation to make those decisions for them.
posted by Ictus at 10:58 PM on January 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I find the most smug posts here are the ones denouncing my so called Rand-inspired point. For having the gall to say that Walmart and H&M's property (or yours, or mine) is theirs to do as they see fit.

Ictus, I do think your argument is rather unhinged. Property rights are granted because the collective wants to give you the opportunity to be productive for the collective? Give up your stuff voluntarily, or the collective will take it from you! Property rights are apparently an illusion. What about your body? Your mind? Are those the property of the collective, too?

To the extent that your assessment is true is a great failure in the cause of personal freedoms, and a gain for government control over your life. Do yo really think it would benefit the country to head in that direction?
posted by 2N2222 at 11:25 PM on January 10, 2010


"I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization."
-- Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

"Fuck you all, I got mine."
-- 2N2222, paraphrased.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:35 PM on January 10, 2010


"Fuck you all, I got mine."
-- 2N2222, paraphrased.


I don't really have a problem with that, if it makes you feel good.

It is creepy, though, that those who disagree with me seem to be saying, "Fuck you, give us yours!"
posted by 2N2222 at 11:58 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


A little over the top don't you think? Nobody is doing this "so that the poor will freeze".

The fact that no one wants this to happen is supposed to make it better? I think it makes it worse. If it were one person then we could brand him as asocial. Instead, because it is our civilization it can be defended. One can read the thread and learn how no one did anything that cannot be explained.

That's precisely the aspect that I find depressing.

It wasn't an accident that the labor and resources were wasted. It's not someone's heartlessness that says better to waste then to help someone in need. This was what was supposed to happen.
posted by cotterpin at 12:01 AM on January 11, 2010


Why is everybody attacking 2N for describing how the system currently works? Why not put that effort into changing it? Currently, as aptly demonstrated by H&M, it is only in their best interests to give away clothing when the publicity forces them to do so.

Anybody want to bet how long their new policy holds once the publicity is moving to the next outrage?

The current system is fucked up, and if you want to know more about why that's so, read supercapitalism. The book also has some suggestions on how to start changing it to include the moral dimension you all have. I'm pretty sure even 2N agrees that the world would be a better place with the moral dimension included, but it's currently not set up that way, and it's up to all of us to change that. Attacking the person who points out that the emperor has a wardrobe malfunction isn't all that productive.
posted by DreamerFi at 12:16 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


If my neighbor was in need of help, I'd do what I can.

Uhm, so if your business had some leftover clothes, and your neighbor was in danger of freezing to death, you'd perhaps give them the clothes? You just made everyone else's point. Unless, of course, you don't consider poor people "your neighbors" just because they live in the same area. In which case, good day to you sir.
posted by davejay at 12:25 AM on January 11, 2010


And to give an example of what changing the system looks like, look at this thread.

Anybody here really thinks toys would not still contain lead paint if it weren't for the Consumer Product Safety Commission? Would it really have been in the best interest of the toy makers to change their ways without the law?

Morally right or not, they would have continued making the dangerous toys, because if they hadn't, somebody else would and undercut their prices.

The system is fucked up, indeed.
posted by DreamerFi at 12:30 AM on January 11, 2010


There are two aspects I'll note on your post, DreamerFi.

It is interesting that a certain amount of ire seems to be directed at the way things are, and perhaps at me for pointing this out. It is a matter of fact for the most part.

However, I can't get on board too much with the idea that the system is all that fucked up. In my view, it's usually fucked up for everyone at some time. And it usually works very well for everyone at some time. Most of the time, it probably doesn't affect us all that much one way or the other.

I'm not sure what it means to include a moral dimension into the way economics works. Such talk immediately makes me suspicious. Who's morals are we talking about? Barak Obama's? Sarah Palin's? Michael Moore's? Glenn Beck's? This is the problem I have with some of the folks here who insist that these large companies have some kind of obligation to the community. Ask fifty different people who say this what that obligation is, and you'll get fifty different answers. Maybe this is one of those "don't go there" instances, where the moral interjection just washes down a rabbit hole of justifications to placate everyone's pet peeve.

Anyhow, thanks for the heads up on Supercapitalism. I kinda like Robert Reich when I read his editorials or hear him on the radio, and find his approach usually refreshing and pragmatic.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:39 AM on January 11, 2010


Davejay:


Uhm, so if your business had some leftover clothes, and your neighbor was in danger of freezing to death, you'd perhaps give them the clothes? You just made everyone else's point. Unless, of course, you don't consider poor people "your neighbors" just because they live in the same area. In which case, good day to you sir.


I certainly might. I also certainly might not. Whether I do or not depends how much it costs me. That decision is mine to make, nobody else's.

Did I just make everyone else's point?
posted by 2N2222 at 12:45 AM on January 11, 2010


"Fuck you all, I got mine."
-- 2N2222, paraphrased.


I don't really have a problem with that, if it makes you feel good.

It is creepy, though, that those who disagree with me seem to be saying, "Fuck you, give us yours!"


That is really NOT what people are saying AT ALL. Nobody is trying to take anything away from you. Nobody is trying to steal from Walmart (poor multi-national Walmart). The opposite of "I've got mine, Jack" isn't stealing from other people, it's actually about sharing resources. Trying to find a better answer than destroying clothes just because it makes economic sense for a multi-billion dollar company.

I certainly might. I also certainly might not. Whether I do or not depends how much it costs me. That decision is mine to make, nobody else's.

Of course, it's your decision to make. And if your morals entertain the idea of letting someone die just so you can personally save money, then it's up to each of us to decide what kind of asshole that makes you.

Nobody is trying to take that decision out of your hands, what we are trying to do - as a community - is impress upon you the idea that none of us live in a bubble and life isn't just about prolonging our own existence.
posted by crossoverman at 3:48 AM on January 11, 2010


I'm not sure what it means to include a moral dimension into the way economics works. Such talk immediately makes me suspicious. Who's morals are we talking about? Barak Obama's? Sarah Palin's? Michael Moore's? Glenn Beck's?

Indeed. Figuring that out is a function of democracy, not a function of capitalism. Which is why capitalism won't bother figuring it out and just go for the bottom line. The two are at odds, and it is up to the citizens to figure out how (and if, for that matter) it needs to be fixed.
posted by DreamerFi at 4:05 AM on January 11, 2010


@2N2222--Your overarching points are: I will make business decisions. These decisions are based on solely on money or financial gain. There is nothing immoral about following the law.

Just to be clear: I have the stuff, I make the rules for the stuff. Is this your point? If so, I think that you have shared it.

Thanks.
posted by zerobyproxy at 4:11 AM on January 11, 2010


@ intermod--Nice link! I read the write up and will check out the film later today. Thanks.
posted by zerobyproxy at 4:41 AM on January 11, 2010


OK, so here's the deal:

Prices are determined by value to the consumer, *not* by cost of production. Cost of production (generally) sets a floor to price, but no ceiling.

This is why a 2 cent soda or a 3 cent container of popcorn can demand 98%+ margins.

Now, in the popcorn example, imagine there was a huge container of "slightly underquality" popcorn at the movie theater, available for only a little more than the cost of production.

Nobody would buy popcorn at the amazingly inflated price. It's only competition that drops prices, and in this situation, new popcorn could not even come close to competing with the slightly trashed.

This is ultimately what's happening, with foodstuffs, with clothing, with everything. It's almost all artificial price at this scale. The only thing to be sure of is that you're not competing with your actual costs.

And don't think it's all black and white. Donating clothes sounds great until you realize it *destroys* textile markets in Africa, actually increasing poverty. See, the problem is, there's six billion people on earth. How do you keep them all productive? In the era where the time we spend acquiring food has dropped from 75% of our day, to 0.15% of our day, there may very well not actually be enough work to go around.
posted by effugas at 5:09 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


effugas: there may very well not actually be enough work to go around

You seem to think there is something necessary and essential about being forced to spend time doing stuff you don't really want to do in order to survive. Being a rather simple kind of person, I thought the whole idea of technology was to eventually free us from that.
posted by localroger at 6:04 AM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Donating clothes sounds great until you realize it *destroys* textile markets in Africa, actually increasing poverty. See, the problem is, there's six billion people on earth. How do you keep them all productive? In the era where the time we spend acquiring food has dropped from 75% of our day, to 0.15% of our day, there may very well not actually be enough work to go around.

true. and pretty much every clothing retailer produces two collections per season (eg Fall I & Fall II), so eight seasons worth of clothing - who really needs to buy new clothes as often as they are available? no matter how crappily they are made, the fact remains that almost all of us buy, and consequently throw away, way too much clothing.

I recently cleaned out my closet and bagged and donated a couple of kitchen trash bags worth of stuff that I wasn't wearing any more. why? well, some of it didn't fit perfectly (I lost a little weight). other stuff had faded and I couldn't wear it to work, because people won't respect me if I wear faded clothes. other stuff had bleach stains, rust stains or were yellowed from age, sweat, or too much bleach.

see the problem here? I didn't landfill anything, since it was all technically wearable, but I did send it to the thrift store. maybe they can sell it, but maybe they send it to the landfill. but at the bottom of it, I got rid of a pile of wearable clothing that, but for the social standards I feel I have to meet, I could have kept wearing pretty much indefinitely.

my dad, a retired ex-Marine, hardcore conservative, former professional and more recently longtime laborer in, shall we say, less socially-pressured environs, still wears clothes he got in the '70s and '80s, including logo-monogrammed polos he wore as a bartender for a defunct Mexican-theme restaurant. he is savvy enough not to dress like that at the doctor's office, but on the whole, do people frequently fail to take him seriously because he dresses poor? you bet.

getting back to effugas' point up there, we also dump sugar, rice and craploads of other stuff on the world market at below-market prices, thereby undercutting native producers in dozens of countries. that's what we do. so as much fun as I've had kicking 2N2222's ass, let's understand that our fun has been largely symbolic and emotional. this is what we *do* in America, and I don't know how to change it.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:36 AM on January 11, 2010



You seem to think there is something necessary and essential about being forced to spend time doing stuff you don't really want to do in order to survive. Being a rather simple kind of person, I thought the whole idea of technology was to eventually free us from that.


See, the technology problems have always been relatively easy to solve. "Science" and all. It's the social/political/organizational ones that are tricky and I think this thread is a great showcase of why that is.

The estimates I've seen have that the world population can be fed and sheltered using an 'employment rate' of about 20%. That's how good the technology is. Now, look around at the widespred deprivation, poverty and human misery and the real problem becomes apparent.

Sure there's assholes out there, but the rate at which people are blanketing that title on the private sector is alarming and foolish. Rory Marinich's post is a lucid explanation of how well meaning people in the private sector are prohibited from acting 'morally' by the inherent complexity of how our society is set up.

I struggle with these sort of governance issues (tragedy of the commons, prisoner's dilemma, etc) in my job quite often and it was Jessamyn who summed it up to me rather succintly for me: "I have to make something a genuine option for them."

I think 2N has been rather patient with a lot of uninformed, pithy and hollow rhetoric about what different entities in our society should be doing. It's not at all that any of us are removed from community or that morality should be absent from how we govern this community, but it's got to work.

While he certainly hasn't offered solutions, 2N's been very candid with the constraints he's under. While we may not be sympathetic to the H&M's because of their amoral behavior, they're operating necessarily under the legal constraints they face (albeit sometimes advantageously self-created). Those need to be changed before anything positive can happen.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 8:07 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


While we may not be sympathetic to the H&M's because of their amoral behavior, they're operating necessarily under the legal constraints they face (albeit sometimes advantageously self-created). Those need to be changed before anything positive can happen.

agreed. how?
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:36 AM on January 11, 2010


agreed. how?
well for starters:

1) make the distribution of food liability-free as rtha described as what is being done in California.

2) Make all expenses related to redistribution of stock to charity tax deductible. That means all salaries, transport expenses, storage expenses, labour expenses related to rebranding and redistributing extra merchandise become equivalent to making a charitable donation.

2.5) Make all donated items tax deductable. If I donate 100 x 1$ donuts, this qualifies as a $100 charity donation.

3) For clothing - removal of brand names and replace with another. This is labour-intensive - see suggestion 2.

4) Distribute to properly-managed facilities who agree not to reveal the name of the supplier. So if my company is BitterOldDonuts and I give my donuts to a food shelter, people won't necessarily know they are from me and are less likely to associate my donuts with food-shelter donuts.

5) Get charity stores to agree to limit the number of items a person can buy. i.e. you can't buy more than 6 winter coats or pairs of shoes.

I think #2 and #2.5 would be the biggest incentives for companies to make good use of their surplus, with minimal effect on the bottom line of the government's coffers.

The trick is to manage this properly.
If the tax incentives can go through, then any enterprising person might consider starting up a consulting company that does all the leg-work and administration regarding the redistribution of surplus - can be a win-win for everyone.
posted by bitteroldman at 9:13 AM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


>: Mostly he just enjoys smirking and refusing to change his mind.

Sounds like a lot of Libertarians. I find such people rather unbearable.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:15 AM on January 11, 2010


Reasonably: Yes, in fact it was I who pointed out that corproations used to be chartered by the government, with a rather different set of priorities. 2N's response to that was to snark about the king having the only vote.

Here's the problem: Our way of doing things, the way we have adopted globally in this age, doesn't work. It's not broken in the sense that it once worked and should be fixed; it never has worked, and at this point it's obvious that nothing even remotely resembling it run by human beings ever will. At one point we could kid ourselves that the misery it caused resulted from insufficient resources or unrelated tendencies to greed and violence, but no more. The market driven system is based on such a flawed understanding of human motivation that its failure is inevitable.

This is why, every once in awhile, some brave soul points out that if you manage to find a wise and benevolent king, monarchy has its advantages. Of course historically king quality has been an even bigger problem, which is why we tried this disastrous market thingy. Someone really needs to come up with another idea.
posted by localroger at 9:48 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Indeed. Figuring that out is a function of democracy, not a function of capitalism.

The beauty of democracy is that it has a good answer to "but I don't agree with that decision": "50% of your peers do, so suck it."

OK, maybe not a good answer, but an answer that tends to keep people from revolting.
posted by smackfu at 9:54 AM on January 11, 2010


"Fuck you all, I got mine."
-- 2N2222, paraphrased.


I don't really have a problem with that, if it makes you feel good.

It is creepy, though, that those who disagree with me seem to be saying, "Fuck you, give us yours!"


see my problem with this is that it's not like you hewed "yours" from the very living earth by your raw force of will, presuming that you are a participant in society you enjoy the use of infrastructure to create "yours" and maintain your lifestyle, whatever it may be. it follows that you would have an interest in maintaining the infrastructure. it is baffling to me when people in highly industrialized societies act like they are not enmeshed in a crazy obligation web. who are you even fooling.
posted by beefetish at 10:11 AM on January 11, 2010


bitteroldman: way to step up. I like your ideas. I will try to propagate them within my meager sphere of influence
posted by toodleydoodley at 10:12 AM on January 11, 2010


Make all donated items tax deductable. If I donate 100 x 1$ donuts, this qualifies as a $100 charity donation.

This is economically equivalent to the federal government buying excess inventory for about 1/3 the full asking price.

It would almost certainly be more cost-effective for the federal government to simply buy inexpensive clothes at wholesale prices and just give them away, and any donation-deduction program has the potential for extensive fraud -- if something isn't selling well, mark it up to some barely reasonable value for however long it takes for that to become the value, then donate it. Done right, a firm might even make a profit on this.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:14 AM on January 11, 2010


This is why, every once in awhile, some brave soul points out that if you manage to find a wise and benevolent king, monarchy has its advantages

Practice safe government: use a kingdom.
posted by DreamerFi at 10:19 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks to those who tried to explain the difficulties companies might face redistributing these goods rather than destroying them. It's hard to say something interesting or informative about how or why these choices were made, so thanks.

I'm not going to pretend i have ever done much for the homeless, but the stories and discussion are interesting.
posted by ServSci at 10:50 AM on January 11, 2010


My first thoughts were, "Wow, this is HORRIBLE! What a waste"

Now, after reading thru this conversation I can see that companies might have issues with getting rid of goods...but still, why is donation not an option?
posted by relentless1 at 10:59 AM on January 11, 2010


This is economically equivalent to the federal government buying excess inventory for about 1/3 the full asking price.

It would almost certainly be more cost-effective for the federal government to simply buy inexpensive clothes at wholesale prices and just give them away, and any donation-deduction program has the potential for extensive fraud -- if something isn't selling well, mark it up to some barely reasonable value for however long it takes for that to become the value, then donate it. Done right, a firm might even make a profit on this.


Yeah, I should have said that the donation would be for the cost price and not the sale price. So if a donut sells @ $1 but costs be 0.20 to make then the donation on 100 donuts would be $20 and not $100.

Obviously there is room for fraud and cheating. But in any government incentive program there's room for it. Cash for clunkers, R&D credits, education credits - i'm sure there's a lot of cheating going on already. The key is to make it as airtight as possible. And it comes back to my original point up-thread - are we willing to ignore a possible solution just because we are worried about a few cheaters? If anything, develop a pilot project for 10-20 years. If it works, great. If not, scrap it.
posted by bitteroldman at 11:00 AM on January 11, 2010


2N2222: It's not your stuff unless we say it is. That's not a value statement, that's how things are. Government agencies, from law enforcement to the county recorder, are the only real arbitrators of ownership. If you disagree, I strongly encourage you to test your theory, although I can pretty much guarantee it'll be futile.

So yes, your mind and body are absolutely subject to the whims of the state (see: the draft, prison, involuntary commitment), and again, there are many ways to prove this to yourself if you doubt it. To not know this is evidence of willful blindness or stunning ignorance.

(Now, there are many moral arguments for property rights as a subset of human rights, but you've already expressed your opinion on the interjection of moral beliefs into governance, so let's move on.)

You've asserted ad nauseam that Wal-Mart has no responsibility to the community, but since big box retailers' very presence can be prevented through city ordinances, it seems clear to me that they ought to be concerned what the community thinks their responsibilities are.
posted by Ictus at 11:35 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


If they were to donate them, they'd have to come up with some system of permanently marking clothes that couldn't be thwarted by people who want to resell the clothes or fraudulently return them.

Like not having a receipt?


It's probably a little late to respond to this, and it'll just get lost in the other 200 comments here, but what the hell?

No, not like not having a receipt. Also, not like doing something to the tag, as was mentioned earlier. People will get around these things, and if they can't fraudulently return items to the store, they'll at least be able to resell them. I'm talking about something that will diminish the resale value of the item and not require a store to change its return policy, like maybe a big stamp that says "This item was found in the dumpster behind H&M" across the front of a shirt or jacket.
posted by lexicakes at 11:50 AM on January 11, 2010


I certainly might. I also certainly might not. Whether I do or not depends how much it costs me. That decision is mine to make, nobody else's.

What you steadfastly refuse to except is the broader concept of SHARED responsibility and SHARED morals and SHARED harms.

At one point in time the decision to dump mercury into bays and rivers was "yours to make" to.

Do you not agree that dumping mercury in bays and rivers was a bad thing even BEFORE it was illegal?

The fact is your point of view is not "how things work." It only how things work becuase people like you constantly want to move the bar of what is theirs and what is shared and then have the audacity to whine about morals being forced on them. You literally force society to act after the harm is done and almost irreversibly.


the only difference int his case is the harm WalMart is doing is not urgent and mostly it's by inaction rather than action. They could prevent a harm.

But your entire argument is there exist no harm until something is illegal and that you bear no responsibility for your actions unless some legal entity interviens. But you resist at every turn that legal entity from defining what actions your allowed to be responsible for in the first place. It's fucking absurd.
posted by tkchrist at 12:13 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


...like maybe a big stamp that says "This item was found in the dumpster behind H&M" across the front of a shirt or jacket

This is probably not a good idea. It's not good for one's dignity. People, no matter how poor they are, probably don't want to wear something that pretty much points out that they're poor.

If anything, maybe iron on a tasteful, yet inconspicuous label on the pocket or sleeve, but even that - eventually word will spread that those "polo shirts with the unicorn on the pocket instead of the polo player are actually dumpster shirts"
posted by bitteroldman at 12:23 PM on January 11, 2010


This is probably not a good idea. It's not good for one's dignity. People, no matter how poor they are, probably don't want to wear something that pretty much points out that they're poor.

I was really joking about the stamp. The point is, to avoid attempts to return or especially resell garments that have been donated or thrown away, there must be an obvious mark on the garment, not just the tag or receipt. I was thinking much like the "For Promotional Use Only" that's printed on CDs that are given away. It has to be something that will devalue it enough that people won't buy it.
posted by lexicakes at 2:40 PM on January 11, 2010


Could they stamp the items on the inside with an ink that would only show up under blacklight? The stamp could say salvage and clerks could check for it.

In my past experiences as a retail employee, by the time something was thrown away, it would have been marked down to nearly nothing in the computer, so a return without a receipt wouldn't be very effective (at least under that store's policies).
posted by drezdn at 2:40 PM on January 11, 2010


Libertarians continue to rework their Lord of the Flies worldviews while progressive-liberals sit twiddling their fingers nervously to avoid taking any action that might offend.

It is like watching the opposite ends of the parenting spectrum!

Seriously, unfettered capitalism has given these "raw unruly children" complete license to terrorize and abuse others. No, we don't want to damper lively spirits of corporate invention ... but, dear people, we have allowed the infant terribles to become unbearable in civilized society!

It is simply time for some adult governance. It won't feel good at first (yes, it might even feel tyranical) -- and the spoiled children will certainly wail. It is the only choice if we are to have any peace. And, above all, we do want what is best for the child.

/nanny intervention
posted by Surfurrus at 3:15 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've always felt disquieted at book retailers ripping the front cover out of their books before discarding them, and this makes about as little sense. It seems that the smaller items wouldn't be worth enough to make a big difference as far as people ripping off the retailers (don't most of them require receipts anyway?) and larger ones could be permanently marked somehow, like in the collar for shirts and jackets, for example.
posted by rubah at 3:55 PM on January 11, 2010


I was thinking much like the "For Promotional Use Only" that's printed on CDs that are given away.

Also seen in your average used CD bin.
posted by smackfu at 4:01 PM on January 11, 2010


Surfurrus wins.

Yes. Exactly.

This claim that there exists no social contract or not personal responsibility to community only seems to come up with the offered cost of responsibility benefits somebody else. Oh my sacred property rights, they cry! Oh the slippery slope to the unwilling communalization of my very body! Ohes noes!

Yet what has been the single greatest threat to human life and liberty over the last 50 years? Communal tyranny? Even governments? HA! Not even close. The corporations have been using this idiotic rugged individualist dogma to make themselves into super-individuals with super-rights and super-powers to affect change in political systems contrary to individual freedoms and health. The corporations with thier sacred property rights have subsumed the rights FROM individuals, irresponsibly absconded with crucial shared natural resources (such as fresh water, seed plants, etc), and polluted huge swaths of the planet to the point human civilization may be threatened.

But we're supposed to be terrified that society may ask you to not waste some clothes or pay a tiny fraction of profits for health care to better the community. OHES NOES! IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD!

By nature I am a rather anti-establishment and anti-authority guy. I'm also a business owner. I kinda get some of the fears libertarians transmogrify into these distorted policy fantasies and selfish philosophies. But these policies and idea don't work in practice on any scale and they never have.
posted by tkchrist at 4:31 PM on January 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


I can see both side of the situation here.. In essence I agree the slashing of the clothes wasn't the most community friendly thing they could have done, and as long as the flip side (see next paragraph) of this wasn't in effect then giving the clothes to a mission to then give to the homeless, talk about a great PR exercise that wouldn't cost them anything above what they already wrote off in stock.
Now the flipside I can also understand is something I see at where I work, which sells Duty Free items, some of our items which we have written off and not to be sold actually need to be destroyed and we even have a customs officer come on site to ensure we do destroy these goods. The reason being is to ensure this is not sold to staff and the duty if not paid to the government, so it's cheaper for us to smash it up, otherwise if customs don't confirm the item is destroyed then we need to also pay the duty back, plus the item we have already paid for.
Luckily most of our items don't fall into this area so we can sell written off items to staff, where we then donate the takings to a local charity.
posted by Merlin The Happy Pig at 7:49 PM on January 11, 2010


2N2222: It is creepy, though, that those who disagree with me seem to be saying, "Fuck you, give us yours!"

To an extent, yes in fact I am.

There is an unhealthy tendency in the west to sit and think "This is my stuff. I've earned it. I don't owe anything to anybody. Leave me and my stuff alone." Which ignores a greater point. We here, sitting on metafilter are some of the luckiest people who have ever lived. We have well stocked kitchens, home appliances, central heating in the depths of winter, a roof over our heads, computers to use. There are many in our own society who do not have these things, many through no fault of their own - the housing and stock market crash should at least show how fragile the ecosystem of stuff we take for granted is. There are many people in the world who do not even have running water, electricity or a roof.

While we can think that what we have is down purely to our own merits, it ignores the shoulders we're standing on, the help we invisibly got from society as soon as we were born - a stable civil society, infrastructure, laws and police, an army that generally protects us instead of dominates us. If we were born into say, a subsistence farming family in Bangladesh, do we honestly think how many would still be sat where we are right now, living the same life we do now? If you want a truly individualist society, then go have a look at Somalia - that is what life is like when everybody with power looks out for themselves alone.

For yes, it's a moral code to say you should contribute to society; but it's also a moral code that stops other people taking your stuff by force. If someone homeless were faced by the choice of freezing to death or smashing the windows of wallmart and just taking sufficient to stay warm, I wouldn't be condemning them.

Society works like herd immunity with vaccination; it can tolerate a few free riders, as long as most contribute. But once everyone looks out solely for themselves, and only takes instead of gives, society as a whole breaks down. We have a duty to recognise we get more from society than just roads and taxes.

So yes, I *do* like paying my taxes. I like living in the society that it builds. But taxes alone are not enough, as nobody really wants to pay that much. My money, my choice what I spend it on, etc etc. Society needs more than taxes. We have a greater civil responsibility to our fellows than that, assuming we want to carry on living in a land where we can go to sleep at night, and likely won't wake up the next morning with an armed gang taking all our stuff.

Giving away this clothing wouldn't have been charity. It wasn't giving away anything of value to the store. It would have been simply been the civilized thing to do.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:33 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Could they stamp the items on the inside with an ink that would only show up under blacklight? The stamp could say salvage and clerks could check for it.

Stores do this, though they just use a regular stamp on the inside of the garment. Then the garment goes to a discount retailer. (At least, I hope that's why the hoodie I'm wearing says 'DEFECTIVE' in big block letters on the inside of the elastic at the bottom.)
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:25 AM on January 12, 2010


aaaaaaaaaand, for anyone still following this:

The City of New York is guilty of this as well.
posted by availablelight at 2:07 PM on January 13, 2010


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