How Ethical Is Fruit of the Loom? All You Need to Know

How Ethical Is Fruit of the Loom? All You Need to Know

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Dennis Kamprad

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As a producer of top-selling apparel items worldwide, Fruit of the Loom is a household name for many across the globe. You even may be wearing a product of theirs right now. They employ over 32,000 people, and any company of that size is sure to leave an environmental footprint; therefore, with such influence on us all, we had to ask: How ethical is Fruit of the Loom?

Fruit of the Loom is one of the most ethical companies around today. The company code of conduct incorporates strict policies regarding human and workers’ rights, environmental sustainability, and good business ethics, and these standards extend to all employees, suppliers, and affiliates.

We took a close-up look inside Fruit of the Loom’s policies, press releases, partnerships, and company history to see what the company stands for and whether or not they ‘put their money where their mouth is’ and follow through. (And yes, we looked at the money too.) So what makes this company so special? Quite a bit, actually, and we’ve got the highlights right here.

Who Is Fruit of the Loom?

A Trusted Brand With Strong American Roots

Fruit of the Loom (FOTL) was originally founded in 1851 as the B.B. and R. Knight Corporation by Benjamin and Robert Knight in Warwick, Rhode Island, as a producer of high-quality cotton cloth and textiles. (Inspiration for the brand name and its iconic apple symbol came a few years later.)

One year after trademark laws were first passed by Congress, in 1871, “Fruit of the Loom” was granted one of the first 500 trademarks ever–number 418–making it one of the oldest trademarks still existing today.

Innovation and Perseverance in the Face of Adversity 

The company image changed a few times for nearly a century as licensing, advertising, and business in general evolved. Still, FOTL continued to grow into the world-famous brand it is today, with success through hardship beginning with its partnership with Union Underwear and their contributions to the Allied effort during World War II.

However, success was not without struggle, and some of the biggest challenges came after company expansions during the postwar era. They’ve been conglomerate-owned since 1961; re-branded and restructured; it was only in the 1980s that they officially stepped into their role as an apparel company. Yet, the company’s history shows its determination to do what’s good and what’s right in their journey to the top.

America’s Past Meets a Global Future

International trade agreements of the 1990s proved disastrous as subsequent changes in manufacturing and inventory management eventually led FOTL to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1999. They were later purchased by Berkshire Hathaway under the hand of Warren Buffet in 2002. 

Currently, Fruit of the Loom, Inc. remains an independent, wholly-owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc

Note: This is one of few associations with FOTL–political, financial, business, or otherwise–whose ethics are under scrutiny, as this holding company and Mr. Buffet, himself, have taken on many criticisms over the years. While this is significant, for this article, we’ve kept the focus on FOTL operations.

Today, the company is globally recognized as a leader in the underwear and apparel business, producing some of the world’s best-selling products. It includes multiple brands such as Spalding, BVD, and Russell.

How Ethical Are They?

Quite frankly, if any company serves as the utmost symbol of good ethics to which we all should aspire, it is–without a doubt–Fruit of the Loom. This company has sound, good-hearted principles at its core, which serve as the foundation of The Fruit Code, its strict, official, international policy in code of conduct.

The literature declares commitment to the highest standards of business ethics, human rights, and environmental consciousness with policies that encompass respect for people, environmental sustainability, business ethics, and various general matters. 

Like most corporate legalese, the language is still mildly ambiguous. However, it is plainspoken, leaving very little room for misinterpretation in these policies, by which all employees, suppliers, manufacturers, and otherwise are required to adhere. This includes actively tracking and performing assessments of compliance with these standards. 

Fruit of the Loom and People’s Rights

Code of conduct regarding respect for people is broken down into nine distinct aspects of workers’ rights. It defines standards in:

  • Employment Relationship
  • Health and Safety
  • Child Labor
  • Forced Labor
  • Harassment or Abuse
  • Non-Discrimination
  • Working Hours
  • Compensation 
  • Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining

The company has proven its commitment and follow-through with such matters, particularly throughout the last decade. Including in 2002, when FOTL became an affiliate of the Fair Labor Association. This subjects all facilities to FLA compliance, including annual, unannounced assessments.

In addition, we saw the signing of the Accord on Fire Building Safety in Bangladesh in 2013. FOTL has maintained active membership of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety since to guarantee the safety of garment workers there. Just three years later, in 2016, the company received praise from the Worker Rights Consortium for negotiations with Honduran labor unions.

And in 2019, FOTL released its Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Disclosure Statement, wherein a provision of the policy is stated to combat issues that were found concerning these matters. Issues that were not able to be immediately corrected are presently being addressed by FOTL personnel, including investigations into Uighur slavery in China

Fruit of the Loom and Environmental Sustainability

At The Heart of Everything It Does

Ethical manufacturing is practiced by FOTL at every level of production. These standards go hand-in-hand with their ethics and beliefs in protecting human rights and doing what is right for the environment. All suppliers must meet these criteria as set out in the company’s code of conduct, and independent audits are conducted to establish compliance. 

The Flagship Moroccan Plant

Designed with the environment heavily in mind, the Moroccan affiliate’s plant has a Gold Certificate of Compliance as it contributes to sustainable manufacturing and helps protect natural resources. Things like underground pipes and a heat-exchange system help to keep energy use low.

The plant even has its own water-treatment facility wherein water is processed, and up to 65% is recycled and returned to the river, cleaner than it was before. This is very beneficial to the Moroccan community, as water is a precious resource there. But what’s more, cleaning up the river water has helped to regenerate it, and the river is again teeming with wildlife it once lost. 

Oeko-Tex Accreditation 

Oeko-Tex is a renowned testing-certification system for textiles. Regulated test criteria include tests for pH-values, heavy metals, prohibited azo dyes, pesticides, harmful chemicals, and more. FOTL only uses ethically-produced yarn–which uses 30% less energy and produces 23% less waste, and all garments are Oeko-Tex Standard 100 approved.

Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) Certified

WRAP is the largest facility-certification program in the world and is dedicated to securing global manufacturing standards that are lawful, humane, and ethical. Funding is sustained from the global apparel industry; albeit, they conduct business as an independent organization. Certification is received once suppliers show compliance with the 12 WRAP principles, including workplace regulations, child labor, health and safety, and more. 

Fruit of the Loom and Corporate Responsibility 

FOTL is committed to conducting business in a way that is socially responsible. With operations moving out of the U.S. and overseas, their sustainable business model grew more complex, highlighting corporate’s responsibility to ensure their standards and expectations are met by all business partners.  

Amfori is the leading association advocating for open and sustainable global trade. Their mission is to enable retailers, associations, importers, and brands worldwide to responsibly use natural resources, enhance human prosperity, and drive open trade. As a member, FOTL is offered world-class tools and a practical framework to help manage the environmental and social performance within their supply chains

Final Thoughts

Fruit of the Loom exemplifies how big business can run successfully simply by respecting the people and the environment around you. As a consumer of their products, you can feel good knowing that you contribute to sustainable manufacturing and support a company with strong, ethical convictions for people and the planet alike. Plus, you get comfortable underwear!

Stay impactful,



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