Well formed tanned bodies of young men– this is one trademark of US fashion brand Abercrombie & Fitch. The brand has established itself as a sought-after label selling must-have fashion. Whenever a new A&F store opens countless fans of the brand are willing to wait hours in long lines to come in and shop.

But there is another story behind this famous label’s face. The reportage on German TV ARD-Plusminus - see report here - discovered very bad working conditions for the workers at Abercrombie & Fitch manufacturers in India and found out that some A&F garments are downright toxic. A selection of products was checked for carcinogenic substances by a German certificated institute (TÜV Rheinland). It found that a women's top that had been on sale in store for weeks exceeded allowable limits. As toxicologist Martin Göttlicher from Helmholtz-Zentrum in Munich explains: “These products shouldn’t have reached the market or customers.” A quality management would have discovered this long before such items go into circulation.

But even worse was that there was no reaction from A&F on the report and no comment on the TV production enquiry. Even though the TV editors informed the company about the polluted products, Abercrombie neither informed its customers nor did it take the products out of circulation as a result.

Abercrombie & Fitch store opening
Abercrombie & Fitch store opening

Thereupon asked by Sportswear International about the report and the company’s resulting silence, an A&F spokesperson did respond and said: "The health and safety of our customers and associates is of the utmost importance to us. We have well established, robust testing protocols for fabric dyes. We are currently investigating the garment in question, and we will take any steps necessary based on the results of our investigation. In the interim, of our own initiative, we removed the garment from our sales floor promptly after learning of the report."

Admittedly, stories about producing in low-wage countries and TV reports about bad working conditions in such countries are not new. A lot of fashion brands have relocated their production to India, Bangladesh and Vietnam fully aware that the conditions are bad and the wages are inhumanely low. Others are trying to control their manufacturers, talking in public about prevention and problems and attempting to establish special humane standards.  Of course, making these changes would also affect pricing. This it what the world now sees in China–a former low-wage country that today is too expensive for many low-price brands. That said, at least most fashion brands justify and react to negative reports to save face and to calm down the public. And they usually do it immediately. But maybe that didn’t make any difference to the consumer in their way of consumption!?