Why Are H&M, Walmart Destroying Unsold Clothing Instead of Giving Them to Charity?

H&M store

Photo by tnarik

H&M and Walmart are doing a lot more than slashing prices, according to the New York Times. More literally, the fast-fashion purveyor and a contractor for the big-box chain are also taking box-cutters and hole punchers to unsold merchandise, willfully mutilating otherwise-pristine T-shirts, hoodies, pants, puffy jackets, and even shoes (buh-bye insoles!) before hauling them to the curb with the rest of the garbage.

Garbage in NYC

Photo by mulmatsherm

WHAT A WASTE

It’s a dismal state of affairs, especially when the offending parties hail from Manhattan, where nearly a quarter of its 1.5 million residents live below the poverty line. And in case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a recession in one of most frigid winters on record on the East Coast—even in Tampa, where daily highs have been falling short of normal daily lows.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a recession in one of the most frigid winters on record.

But the systematic destruction and landfilling of surplus product is more common than you might think, even in this age of corporate social responsibility. (Ironically, H&M just announced a new sustainable apparel line for spring.) Even the Swedes were burning unsold clothes as recently as 2009.

The practice doesn’t make a lot of sense, but retailers do this ostensibly to “preserve brand integrity” and reduce potential liability. Mostly it’s so wily types can’t hawk the castoffs on eBay or return them for cash. A smart business move, perhaps. But the ecological or human thing to do? Not so much.

And if the big-box retailers don’t have a Yellow Pages handy, Vanity Fair has compiled a list of 13 places in the Big Apple that will gratefully accept clothing donations, preferably, we’d imagine, in one piece.

Update: H&M has promised to stop slashing and trashing unsold clothing and instead donate it to charity. Walmart has stated that clothing destruction is atypical of the store’s practices.

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15 Responses to “Why Are H&M, Walmart Destroying Unsold Clothing Instead of Giving Them to Charity?”

  1. meowsk says:

    What sucks is grocery stores do this with food too. These business owners just can’t stand someone getting their product for free – even if it is no longer of use to them.

    Our mass consumption and waste sickens me.

  2. bernice paul says:

    To prevent return for cash, I’m sure the H+M’s of the world could simply mark the clothing somehow – on the label, etc… certainly less labor-intensive than slashing clothes and shoes to smithereens!
    I suppose re-sale on e-bay will be more “difficult” to monitor – but SO WHAT? These are items that are lost profit anyway.

  3. Jeannemarie says:

    I think that many retailers have been marking or clipping out or marking labels for years to sell them to TJ Maxx etc.

  4. NancyTWS says:

    I heard that the craft stores do it, too. Think of all the disadvantaged schools that could use creative art supplies. This is an example of why folks need to be conscious consumers and make statements with their purchases or lack thereof. BigGreenPurse.com is all about it – Chech them out if you haven’t already!

    Nancy Gallant
    Time Well Spent
    An Eco-Arts & Creative Repurposing Community Enrichment Center
    http://www.twsblog.wordpress.com

  5. [...] as the store’s Organic and Sustainable line, and in a case of unbelievably bad timing, a story caught fire the same day that a Manhattan H&M store has been mutiliating unworn, unsold [...]

  6. MacAaron says:

    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.

  7. L_Lopez says:

    My name is Lorenzo Lopez and I work in Walmart’s communications department. I thought it was important to respond to the post regarding Walmart apparel found in NYC.

    Recently, we were informed that several bags of samples were found on 35th Street in Manhattan, left by a supplier without our knowledge . This action was not in compliance with the Walmart apparel office’s long-standing practice of donating all wearable samples to an extensive array of local charitable organizations, many of which have benefited tremendously. Merchandise deemed unwearable is sent to a recycling center. We are taking immediate action to reiterate, underscore and communicate this practice to all apparel suppliers to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

    As we work towards our goal of sending zero waste to landfills, we’re focused on three “Rs” – reduce, reuse and recycle. Our food donation program grew out of this focus and has provided more than 100 million pounds of food to U.S. food banks this year alone. Similarly, the samples donated from our apparel office and our apparel suppliers are benefiting the organizations and people who need them most.

  8. [...] to the New York Times, H&M and Walmart have been using box cutters and other sharp objects to slash and mutilate their unsold clothing stock (including brand new coats, jackets and shoes) to ribbons before stuffing it into trash bags and [...]

  9. [...] Click here for pictures and the full story follow [...]

  10. samsstuff says:

    Sadly, this is an extremely common practice. Often, these items have been reported as unsold to the manufacturers. The manufacturers issue the store/ company a refund & as part of the agreement between the stores & the manufacturer, the items are either returned to the manufacturer or must be destroyed. These things are no longer the property of the store, but have reverted to the manufacturer. It may be possible for them to authorize a donation. There may be state & local laws that apply & prohibit donation. As far as food is concerned, in addition to some of the above issues, there may be public health concerns. So, at the very least, it’s a complicated issue.

  11. indiaflint says:

    either give them uncut to a good cause, or take them back to the factory and reshape them.
    and frankly, what’s really “green” about their new collection? still using synthetic dyes derived from petrochemical sources…

  12. ac says:

    Here in Palm Beach County, South Florida, I’ve seen Winn-Dixie’s workers throwing unsold bread and deli items in the trash cans over and over again. What about reducing those things 2 or 3 hours before closing? Now, Winn-Dixie’s closing many stores. One of them was one from which I personally asked if I could take the bread to a family of 5 children and 2 adults. Plenty of mouths!

    Publix has a history to give its unsold bread to the Salvation Army thrift stores. They found takers the seconds they were put out there! Can you imagine donating all that stuff to hungry mouths at the soup kitchens? So many people will benefit.

    Liability mixed with corporation’s greed!
    Barnes and Noble throws their unsold magazines in their dumpsters. I can understand it will cost too much to publishers. But what about donating them to hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, mental institutions, military bases?

    In the case of non-perishable goods, it’s mostly greed and not liabilities, lawsuits etc. You give to people and they are NOT going to buy. That’s the bottom line. See wasteful companies go bankrupt!! Sweet!!!!

  13. dawn says:

    A travesty in my opinion is that our local Wal Mart, Plainwell, Michigan (though I assume this is company policy), throws their deli meat in the garbage dumpster. I was in early one morning to buy lunch meat for my son’s lunch box. There was a case full of deli meat all sliced and covered, cut just the night before, and I requested a pound of the turkey. The clerk said that she’d have to cut fresh, that they just hadn’t disposed of the meat from the deli case from the night before. I asked why it couldn’t be donated to our food pantry, homeless shelter, given to employees, anything but thrown into the dumpster. That was just “store policy”. What a shame.

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