Tag Archives: South Central Farm

An Interview with a Forever 21 Manager

I’ve never “crossed the picket line” or worked for a company that has been protested before. I’ve always been curious as to what it would be like work for a company that has been protested or under other public scrutiny. Also, I thought it would add an interesting dimension to my blog to include an interview with a manager of one of the stores that was picketed in front of.

After a week’s worth of wrong names, non-working phone numbers and rude hang-ups, I finally reached a manager at one of the Forever 21 stores that was picketed in the South Central Farm scandal in March of 2009.

I spoke to the manager (under pretense of being an important social media magazine reporter who had prior permission from Forever 21’s PR department to interview store managers) under terms of confidentiality and cannot reveal the name or exact location of the store.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone who was employed at Forever 21 during the protests, however, the manager I interviewed was hired as a sales representative directly after the protests ceased at that location.

The interview:

What was it like working for a company that was being protested?

“At the time I got hired, I really needed a job. Although I understood the issue and what was going on, I needed work and Forever 21 needed employees. To me, the situation was that simple equation, with no external factors on the side.”

What was the general feeling or atmosphere of the store and your co-workers for the duration of the protest?

“Well, the reason I was hired was because some of the sales representatives quit due to the protests. They were mostly college students who needed a part-time job and didn’t know anything about what was going on until the picket lines appeared. The manager who hired me even mentioned that they saw one of the former employees on the picket line after they quit.”

How did you rise from being a floor employee to being a manager?

“As anyone else, though hard work.”

So you’re saying you were rewarded for your hard work.

“Yes.”

You said that you are familiar with the South Central Farm scandal since you were hired when it was prevalent. However, are you aware that Forever 21 has a history of sweatshop use?

“I’ve heard some rumors.”

The rumors are more like facts. From 2001-2004 Forever 21 faced charges for failing to pay minimum wage and unpaid overtime, among other things. Does it surprise you that a company that rewarded you for your hard work failed to reward those on the bottom of the ladder for theirs ?

“Yes, it does surprise me. Forever 21 has kept up with the standard wages for sales representatives and managers. Everyone, including me, loves working here. We have fun on the job and like the company.”

“Thank you for your time.”

And then the line went dead.

I think he may have caught on to the fact that I didn’t have prior permission from Forever 21’s PR department to be calling with questions ūüėČ

In addition to the interview, I went out to Forever 21 stores in the area and conducted very short, typically one or two-question interviews with Forever 21 floor employees. Out of the fifteen people I spoke with, 100 % of the employees that I spoke with had no idea that Forever 21 had ever had any problems with sweatshop use or copyright infringement and only one of them had heard about the South Central Farm scandal.

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Once Unethical, Forever Unethical?

Once upon a time, in a strange land full of concrete, congestion and pollution, a low-income neighborhood manages to create an oasis. The neighborhood was given a plot of dirt, full of trash, junk and other debris. A group of about 350 families transformed it into a thriving garden, with about 150 different species of plants, among the sea of warehouses that surround it. The neighborhood used this garden to feed their families since food is expensive and there are few grocery stores in the area.

Sounds like a modern, real-life fairy tale right?

Wrong.

It was like a fairy tale until Forever 21 and L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stepped in.

Before:

After:

Forever 21 acquired the right to use the land to build a warehouse from the developer, Ralph Horowitz, who bulldozed the farm in 2006. According to the L.A. Times, Forever 21 formed close ties with mayor Villaraigosa, who once publicly supported the farm. From the L.A. Times article:

He has received nearly $1.3 million in contributions and commitments from Forever 21 and its executives over the past two years for initiatives ranging from tree plantings to his own reelection campaign.

It is no secret that Forever 21 is a sponsor and supporter of mayor Villaraigosa. Tom Philpott, a political commentator and writer, exposed just how closely Forever 21 and mayor Villaraigosa are connected in his 2008 article in L.A. Progressive:

Lee [VP of Forever 21] and founder Don Chang were two of several business leaders who accompanied Villaraigosa on his trade mission to Asia in 2006. Six months later, Forever 21 gave $100,000 to Villaraigosa’ s successful campaign to elect three new school board members. In recent months, the company agreed to give $1 million to Villaraigosa’ s Million Trees L.A. initiative, which encourages residents to plant more trees

However, Forever 21 supported the destruction of South Central Farm? Interesting.

The company also gave $150,000 to Villaraigosa’ s staging of the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Century City last year, a donation so significant that Lee was given a speaking role at the event’s closing reception at the Griffith Park Observatory.

With that information, I’ll let you be the judge on if Forever 21 “bought off” the right to use the land by giving donations to the proper people.

For videos with more background information regarding South Central Farm:

SOUTH CENTRAL FARMERS.

The Raid on South Central Farm.

For a video from the protests, see below or click here.

Photos from the protests:

Flyers about mayor Villaraigosa’s involvement:

Forever 21’s response to the protests:

My response to Forever 21: Why would a indigenous people who are content farming want to work in a warehouse for a company known to abuse sweatshop regulations?

For a blog with more information about Mayor Villaraigosa, please follow this link: Home Sweet Home?

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