American Apparel: Personal Ethics versus Generally Accepted Workplace Behavior


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A short paper talks about American Apparel and their attitude toward workplace ethics.

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American Apparel: Personal Ethics versus Generally Accepted Workplace Behavior

  1. 1. American Apparel: Personal Ethics versus Generally Accepted Workplace Behavior American Apparel: Personal Ethics versus Generally Accepted Workplace Behavior Abida Muttaqiena 2012 1
  2. 2. American Apparel: Personal Ethics versus Generally Accepted Workplace Behavior 2 American Apparel: Personal Ethics versus Generally Accepted Workplace Behavior Every business should have a certain standard of ethics in doing their activities. These standards often are reflection of its founder or owner’s moral or ethical values. However, each person has different standard of morality; and sometimes personal morality is in contrast with society’s moral values. This paper will talk about American Apparel’s company culture which displays these differences prominently, the ethical dilemma they are faced with, and my recommendation on what the best ethical action should be taken by them. American Apparel American Apparel is an American fashion brand famous for its sexually provocative advertising (Chernikoff, 2011) and environmentally friendly practices. They pay their employees with high salaries, complemented with health insurance and other benefits (Palmeri, 2005). However, on March 2011, its CEO, Dov Charney, is bombarded with sexual harassment suits from several of his ex-employees. He is a highly controversial figure, well-known for his support to immigration law reform and Pro-LGBT campaign, as well as libertarian sexual attitude (Palmeri, 2005). This is not the first time he gets sued over sexual harassment, but he is still made no changes on his company policy ever since the first lawsuit on 2006. He doesn’t think that using profane words in the workplace is wrong, indirectly admits having intimate relationship with women who work with him, and is still using sexuality to market American Apparel’s products. However, American Apparel adopts Charney’s views in all account. Personal Ethics versus Generally Accepted Appropriate Work Behavior Gael O’Brien (2011) pointed out that American Apparel gets sued again because of the vulnerability of its CEO’s philosophy on sexual freedom, that is: consensual sexual relationships in the workplace are appropriate. Furthermore, they defended Charney by arguing that “…in the
  3. 3. American Apparel: Personal Ethics versus Generally Accepted Workplace Behavior 3 freewheeling creative environment of American Apparel, it’s not inappropriate to use foul language.” (Mankiewicz, 2006). Charney’s philosophy puts American Apparel’s company culture in question as it has high potential of exploitation. It opens up possibility for superiors to exploit their subordinates, for those who want to benefit from the company’s ethics ambiguity by making false accusations, and of putting those who doesn’t comfortable with profanity on hostile work environment. These possibilities exist because Charney’s morality is in contrast with the standard ethical practices in workplace which defines ethical conduct in more restricted manner. On one hand, they believe that sexual freedom is an ingredient in making creative environment and that sexuality is just a natural thing that doesn’t have to be restricted. On the other hand, that freedom includes some conducts that usually falls short on appropriateness. Joseph Devine (2011) listed eight actions that are frequently considered inappropriate in workplace. From the eight actions, at least four of them are admitted by Charney in his interviews, those are: the use of demeaning nicknames, repeated comments about co-worker’s appearance or body, profane language, and crude or sexual hand/body gestures (Palmeri, 2005, Mankiewicz, 2006, and Mau, 2011). Facing this ethical dilemma, American Apparel chose to abandon the standard ethics by embracing Charney’s philosophy. Recommendation How free is free? People can not use ‘freedom’ or ‘creativity’ to justify their unethical behavior when it is against the generally accepted ethical standards and many people could be harmed or offended by it. The so-called freewheeling creative environment of American Apparel could not justify the use of profanity and other inappropriate conducts. It is true that western fashion industry has close ties to sexuality –we can see it in fashion magazines, blogs, adverts, etc, but so far, no other fashion brands have the amount of sexual harassment and or sexual
  4. 4. American Apparel: Personal Ethics versus Generally Accepted Workplace Behavior 4 connotation that American Apparel has. Some fashion brands has cleaner image (in terms of sexuality), still known for their creativity, and no less successful than American Apparel; such as J.Crew and GAP. It proves that fashion creativity does not equal with vulgarity that was promoted by Charney. However, company culture is not something that could be changed overnight, moreover it is already became a part of American Apparel image. Therefore, there should be middle ground where business ethics could be served. Based on those premises, I recommend American Apparel to improve their existing code of ethics and repair their company’s image through these efforts: 1. Their current code of ethics is too vague; therefore they have to define appropriate and inappropriate behavior in written, particularly about what comes under sexual harassment and what is not. It will be better if it is in accordance with the generally accepted appropriate workplace behavior, but the most important issue is identifying the company ethics so that their employees and customers understand American Apparel stands on the matter and would not cry foul when they are offended (because they have agreed with them in the first place by associating with them). Then, publishing the improved code of ethics so that it could be known by the company’s stakeholders. 2. Appointing someone to act as an authorized officer to handle sexual harassment complaints so that the company’s internal grievances can be identified and resolved quickly without involving the courts and hurting company’s image as fair labor supporter. No matter whether they admit it or not, American Apparel is facing an ethical dilemma. If they do nothing to quell this issue, their business ethics will continue to be questioned and there will be more lawsuits in the future. Because of that, they should resolve this problem immediately and not leave it as it is.
  5. 5. American Apparel: Personal Ethics versus Generally Accepted Workplace Behavior 5 References Chernikoff, Leah. (2011). Can Pubes Save American Apparel from Bankruptcy? The Hipster Retailer Backs Away from More Conservative Advertising. Retrieved from Devine, Joseph. (2010). Appropriate Versus Inappropriate Conduct in the Workplace. Retrieved from Mankiewicz, Josh. (2006). Sexy Marketing or Sexual Harassment?. Retrieved from c Mau, Dhani. (2011). American Apparel’s Dov Charney Addresses Sexual Harassment Accusations, What Led the Company to Near-Bankruptcy and Their Plan to Get Back on Track Financially. Retrieved from O’Brien, Gael. (2011). American Apparel and the Ethics of a Sexually Charged Workplace. Retrieved from
  6. 6. American Apparel: Personal Ethics versus Generally Accepted Workplace Behavior Palmeri, Christopher. (2005). Living On the Edge at American Apparel. Retrieved from 6