How Ethical Is L.L. Bean? All You Need To Know

How Ethical Is L.L. Bean? All You Need To Know

Dennis Kamprad

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L.L. Bean has had its ups and downs with public support over the last decade. Some are still boycotting the brand after the Grab Your Wallet movement encouraged consumers to do so, but it has also been a founding member of several prominent organizations for sustainable fashion. So we had to ask: How ethical is L.L. Bean?

L.L Bean can be seen as an unethical brand that has recently been publicly claiming it is engaged in sustainable and ethical practices. But the brand still has issues with its transparency, animal welfare, and has even been exposed as benefiting from forced labor from exploited Uyghurs in China.

At a glance, the brand looks to be making improvements in sustainability. But after a closer look, it appears as though L.L. Bean has had its say in the official literature of how to get away with greenwashing while ignoring workers’ rights.

The Fashion Transparency Index

The Fashion Transparency Index provides a ranking of transparency in brands according to the amount of information they disclose regarding environmental and social practices, policies, and impacts. The 2020 edition featured 250 of the biggest fashion brands around the globe that were reviewed. The average transparency score was 23/100, and the highest was 73/100.

L.L. Bean scored 6/100. This means that there is little to no information provided by L.L Bean for its consumers to inform them about supply chain policies and practices.

Sharing information is not hard to do. Any brand acting ethically would have no problem being open with its customers. And unfortunately for big-name companies like L.L. Bean, staying quiet these days tends to mean you are engaged in unethical and otherwise frowned upon behavior.

To be fair, we have to give L.L. Bean props because while they don’t share much information, at least they are not lying to the public about it like some of the others that ranked well on the Fashion Transparency Index.

…Or are they?…

Forced Labor From Ethnic Minorities in China

Investigations conducted in recent years have published findings that prove the Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of ethnic minority citizens–mostly Uyghurs–from Xinjiang to factories throughout China. The working conditions observed strongly suggest forced labor, and Uyghurs are put to work in factories that supply dozens of popular global brands in the automotive, technology, and clothing sectors.

A report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute conservatively estimates that over 80,000 Uyghurs were moved from Xinjiang to Chinese factories between 2017 and 2019. Some were even sent straight from detention camps. 

Despite the company’s transparency in providing a list of factories, L.L. Bean was found to be one of the “companies potentially directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers.” So it is probably safe to say that the brand’s other claims are just a greenwashing front.

A Member of the Textile Exchange

The Textile Exchange is a global non-profit that recognizes and shares best practices in all things textile with its members, from farming and materials to processing and traceability, even product end-life. The purpose is to drive the transformation of the textile industry in preferred fibers, standards, responsible supply chains, and integrity to reduce the industry’s environmental and social impacts.

As a non-profit, the goal is not to make money, and most of the members are brands that operate ethically and are legitly conscientious about the environment. 

However, becoming a member seems like more of a financial commitment than an ethical one. And looking at the member list, one might notice the many brands that have shown up in recent headlines for benefiting from forced labor, are actively using unsustainable materials, or are known to have horrible environmental impacts. 

And, again, most brands are legit, but this shows how easy it is for large corporations to use memberships and certifications to deploy a greenwashing campaign upon the public. Which, in the end, is what L.L. Bean appears to be doing–at least based on the rest of the fraud we see.

Questionable Animal Rights Claim

L.L. Bean advertises its products to be made with down that is certified by the Responsible Down Standard (RDS). The RDS–an organization of the Textile Exchange–is a global standard that is both independent and voluntary. It is meant to ensure that feathers and down come from geese and ducks that have been treated humanely. This includes things like no force-feeding or live-plucking.

Again, this is something that should be good news. However, PETA has criticized the RDS, claiming live-plucking does occur on its farms. 

Sure enough, the language for RDS Content Claim Standards is unsubstantial and underwhelming when read for comprehension. For starters, it states at the beginning that there is no warranty of information accuracy. Continuing, it disclaims liability from RDS for any damages one may incur by following the standards. 

Once you get to the definition of auditing “requirements,” a careful reading of the language only offers permission, stating brands “may” audit; per the document’s “verbal form” definitions, nothing states that auditing is actually required.

Worse yet? The company isn’t even listed as certified, according to the RDS Certified page.

A Member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition 

Yet another multi-stakeholder initiative, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, is a group founded in 2011 that comprises global footwear and apparel companies as well as non-profit organizations. Together, the Coalition represents almost one-third of the industry’s global market share. Its goals are to lower the apparel industry’s environmental and social impact and create a universal measurement index for sustainability.

In 2012, the Coalition accomplished one goal and developed the Higg Brand & Retail Module to serve as guidelines for measuring sustainability. The module is supported by the Higg Index, which, according to the Coalition, is the “leading assessment for standardized supply chain sustainability assessment.”

Yes, you read that correctly: it is an assessment for assessment. Essentially, companies are offered different ways to measure sustainability. It’s an organized presentation of options; Not a bad resource to have, but they already have that being a Textile Exchange member. So this is not something really bragging about. Come back when you’ve actually used these assessments to identify and correct problems. (You’ve been “measuring” for almost a decade now…)

The prepositional discernment aside, there is another problem with the statement above: the word standardized. When you are dealing with matters globally, you are also dealing with several different laws from the various governments involved. Safety regulations and workers’ rights are subject to the state, county, country, whathaveyou, where the work is being performed. 

Therefore, a standard must be reasonable for and achievable by everyone participating. This is why many standards are basic; average; the least that you should do. Furthermore, these standards must be enforced, which is sometimes the real issue. 

As we have seen, companies have sent manufacturing to places where laws and standards are not enforced, and problems are often overlooked because it decreases payroll costs and increases company profit.

The point is, only with the exceptional few do you find aspirationally high standards and accountability. Quite frankly, if the ideals of sustainability that we consumers demand of these major clothing brands were legitimately put into place, companies would be forced to raise prices to a level few could afford, downsize considerably, or quickly go bankrupt. 

The upstanding ethics and sustainability practices often come from small, local brands–in fact, you, yourself, can start a clothing brand and operate with better standards than those such major brands like L.L Bean hold themselves to. Just something to keep in mind.

Final Thoughts

L.L. Bean may seem like an ethical company because of its claims; however, many of these claims are being exposed as phony. And with more and more small businesses going under, it’s more important than ever that consumers demand better, more ethical practices from these major global brands and refuse to purchase their products until they do. 

Stay impactful,

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