Helping the homeless isn’t profitable


Accused of deliberately destroying unsold winter clothing, including gloves and overcoats, instead of using them to clothe the homeless and poor, two New York City retailers, H&M and Wal-Mart have beat hasty retreats in recent days. Last week, garbage bags filled with shredded clothing were found outside their mid-town Manhattan outlets by a City University of New York graduate student, Cynthia Magnus.*  Magnus, after unsuccessful attempts to contact H&M, took her story to the New York Times

The New York Times also repeatedly attempted to reach Swedish-based H&M, initially, without success.

The high-end retailer has claimed its Manhattan outlet's clothes shredding incident to be an isolated case, not in keeping with corporate policy. H&M's website emphasizes gifts of damaged clothes to charity. "In total, more than 500,000 pieces of H&M garments were donated during 2009," they say.

Wal-Mart, on the lower end of the retail chain offered similar excuses. However, the fact that both companies were caught in the act at the same time in the same city, in fact within blocks of one another, suggests an industry-wide corporate policy might be at work.

A New York Times article stated that "each piece of clothing had holes punched through it by a machine." A technology exists therefore to destroy unused goods. The destruction of unsold garments rather than being an aberration appears to be a common business practice.

Corporate profit apparently is at the heart of this seeming irrational practice. Fearing damage to image and brand, retailers want the right type of consumer to don their apparel. The Times quotes Ed Foy of, (Foy is also a board member of the Clothing Bank in New York which provides clothes to the homeless), who says "brands invest billions of dollars in their images, using models and athletes, which makes them cautious about where donated leftovers might end up." The article continues, "They want us to see that the people wearing their brands are the people we aspire to be."

Homelessness, not being a common aspiration, the fashion industry is loath to see poor people wearing their goods.

The issue extends beyond H&M and Wal-Mart. Kmart is guilty as well. An Illinois news outlet reports, "Nomenklatura wrote on , 'I work at Kmart, and most Kmarts are supposed to lock their dumpsters. What's really sad is when we throw away finished goods just because they aren't selling.'" 

In this 14th coldest winter on record, recently publicity has brought an end to this practice at Wal-Mart and H&M's New York stores. The problem, however, is likely far more widespread. Helping the homeless simply isn't profitable. That's capitalism for you.

Photo: / CC BY-SA 2.0

*Wal-Mart's stock was distributed by another  New York store on 35th street: Wal-Mart itself does not have an outlet in NYC.

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  • This is not a lone incident. I know for a fact that Sam's club/walmart taints produce (such as meat products) before they throw it away (usually well before the sell-by date)

    Posted by 5iron, 01/13/2010 7:26pm (6 years ago)

  • This kind of waste when the people are impoverished, hungry and homeless should be a crime. This is what happens when capitalism goes unregulated, and companies like Wal Mart are allowed to trample on the rights of working people.

    Posted by Frank Chapman, 01/13/2010 4:39pm (6 years ago)

  • Your comments about Walmart are unfair. I work at Walmart and Walmart is very people friendly. They are always helping people. My boss always tells me not to discard or throw away anything the poor could use. He tells us to set it aside. he calls the appropriate social service agencies to pick it up.

    Posted by brandy, 01/13/2010 12:03pm (6 years ago)

  • Many of us surely can't help notice the difference,Joe between brother Richard Trumka's confidence in and love for the people; homeless,hungry,and cloth less,of their keen intelligence,of their determination and dignity,and the arrogance,resentment and wastefulness
    of H&M,Wal-Mart and K-Mart toward us.
    Brother Trumka has recently spoken about how we should be supported before profits as the productive people that we are,and how unionization is essential to this support of ourselves.
    These same above companies,along with Target,despise unionization and women's human rights,and organize against health care for their employees.
    For brother Trumka and for us,a green economy,decent health care and unionization,expanded and guaranteed economic rights for women,children and the elderly is the ticket.
    For H&M,K-Mart,Wal-Mart and Target, destroying unions,denying healthcare,trampling on reproductive rights, destroying use values,and especially human beings,is the ticket.
    No wonder the communists support Trumka,unionization,the homeless and hungry.
    In this wisdom there may be no narrow profit to the rich,but there is surely usefulness and productivity for all.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 01/13/2010 3:44am (6 years ago)

  • what an indictment of capitalism as a system let some folks freeze rather than see our bottom line "suffer" i think the sysem was dumping food during the depression when folks were going hungry. in solidarity jim

    Posted by jim, 01/12/2010 4:50pm (6 years ago)

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