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Where Am I Wearing Wednesday: Under Armour

Today I’m wearing Spandex.

That’s right—Spandex. I just got done jogging

Before you take your mental picture of me wearing Spandex too far, I better inform you that I’m wearing shorts over my Spandex. Anyone who wears Spandex as an outer layer who isn’t a biker or a wrestler is either so vain they probably think this post is about them (Don’t you? Don’t you?), or has let themselves go to such an extent they just don’t give a darn anymore.

Specifically, I’m wearing Under Armour. I’m a big fan of Under Armour. I wore them under board shorts when I worked as a dive instructor in Key West. Trust me, if you spend your days in salt water, sun and sweat, you need all the right armor in all the right places.

Before my run today, I was checking the tags on my three pairs of Under Armor. One pair was made in China, one in Taiwan and one in Honduras. I know that brands source from multiple countries and even multiple factories within a country, but it strikes me a little odd that three identical items were made in three different countries. You’d think brands would have trouble maintaining uniformity across their products. Of course, as Paul Midler points out in his new book, Poorly Made in China, quality fade in Chinese factories can result in the lack of uniformity even in products from the same factory.

OK, let’s get down to business.

Under Armor’s Corporate Code of Conduct wasn’t that hard to find and seems fairly involved.

Several things caught my attention in the Code of Conduct for Suppliers section:
Under Armour seeks to do business with suppliers’ and subcontractors’ that comply with the laws of the United States, the countries in which Under Armour products are produced, distributed, bought and sold, and the Code.

They mention both suppliers and subcontractors which is good. The most egregious labor violations are typically found at subs. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems odd that they mention complying with the laws of the United States. I’m not sure how this would apply to a factory in Taiwan.

On Child Labor …

Under Armour will not purchase products or components thereof manufactured by persons younger than 15 years of age, or younger than the age of completing compulsory education in the country of manufacture where such age is higher than 15.

I had a job at 15. But there’s a big difference between a 15-year-old worker in a developed country versus a 15-year-old worker in a developing one. I saved money to buy a car and pay for college. While I worked, I day dreamed of how cool I was going to look in my TransAm. A 15-year old working in China, Taiwan or Honduras is no doubt thinking about putting food on the table and supporting his or her family.

On Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining …

Under Armour suppliers and their subcontractors shall recognize and respect the right of employees to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

If you’re in sports apparel this is a must right now. Russell Athletics is taking a beating.

On Hours of Work …

Except in extraordinary business circumstances, Under Armour suppliers and their subcontractors (i) shall not require their employees to work more than the lesser or (a) 48 hours per week and 12 hours of overtime or (b) the limits on regular and overtime hours allowed by the law of the country of manufacture or, where the laws of such country do not limit the hours of work, the regular work week in such country plus 12 hours overtime and (ii) be entitled to one day off in every seven day period.

On Global Labor Standards …

Under Armour recognizes that conditions in its third-party suppliers’ facilities, and its supplier monitoring efforts may not be perfect. Nonetheless, Under Armour’s suppliers and their supplier’s subcontractors are expected to meet their legal obligations to their employees, and are evaluated to assess whether they respect Under Armour’s Code of Conduct.

Just so you know, I may not be perfect either. Then again, I may be.

Overall, their code seems pretty good. In order to uphold it they must have to do an awful lot of monitoring, right? But alas, after reading page after page of where the code stands on labor laws, child labor, working hours and more, this is the entire section on monitoring …

Under Armour’s independent third party suppliers’ factories are inspected to assess their compliance with their legal and contractual obligations, including their agreement to respect the Under Armour Supplier Code of Conduct. The inspections are conducted by internal Under Armour employees, and independent third-party monitoring firms.

Drat! The whole “we self-police our factories and use unnamed monitoring firms” bit doesn’t exactly give this engaged consumer much confidence that the code is being upheld.

Let’s scan the headlines and see how the company is faring …
Under Armour cups subject to recall
Under Armour is recalling 211,000 athletic cups, because they can break if hit, posing a risk of serious injury.

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Under Armour has received five reports of cups breaking, including an injury involving cuts and bruising.

I wonder where those cups were made? Perhaps this is a result of Chinese quality fade. Maybe they should move their production to Taiwan or Honduras.

The other headlines are far less entertaining. It seems that Under Armour is doing well even during these bad economic times. A couple of college labor rights group have waved their fingers at them, but it doesn’t seem like they have anything concrete to be upset about.

So, with that …

Dear Under Armour,

I’m a big supporter of your compression shorts. I’m also an engaged consumer who cares about the environmental and social impacts of the products I buy. Your Suppliers’ Code is one of the better ones that I’ve seen, but seems to fall a little short with regard to monitoring. How often are your suppliers monitored? What third party inspectors do you use? I think sharing this info on your site would show that you are truly making the effort to look after those who make your products.

Also, I scanned your site and noticed that none of your products list their country of origin. Instead, the specs just say “Imported.” If I order a new pair of compression shorts, the tag will tell me where they were made. It would be great if you could let your customers know this upfront.

I’ve worn your shorts 200’ beneath the ocean’s surface while diving and 18,000’ above it while hiking. I’m a big fan, and I hope your company will continue to make a quality product that I can support.

Thanks,
Kelsey Timmerman
Engaged Consumer and Author of Where Am I Wearing?

Kelsey Timmerman is the author of Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes. He’s never worn spandex in public.

 

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