Since When is Volunteering a Requirement? In (Slight) Defense of H&M

Hey Glamazons,

I know I've offended some of you with that headline but hear me out.

Last night, I went to Penn Station with a group of friends to hand out scarves, gloves and coffee to homeless people. One of my guy friends, who actually worked as the Fashion Director of a popular magazine, coordinated the Penn Station outing.

I knew I wanted to be a part of it as giving back is something that comes natural to me. I have a lot of compassion, and I'm not just saying that to be lauded.

Seeing people suffer infuriates me. I know the way the world is, and that we live in a capitalist society, but I (somewhat naively) cling to the notion that it's just unfair for people to starve and live outside in the bitter cold. So though I can't change the world, I find that giving back is very healthy and fulfilling to me.

Not everyone is the same way. Before I left, I asked my good friend if she wanted to join. She paused, before informing me that nothing was pulling her away from a heated apartment and into the bitter cold night. I understood and left it alone. Why? Because I believe, strongly, that helping the homeless is volunteer work. And volunteer, by definition, is an act that a person chooses to do. It is NOT required of them.

Too often, people that participate in charities can't feel great about their efforts without criticizing others who don't partake. I don't think that's fair. The personal choice I make to give back is something that shouldn't be imposed on other people.

Our contribution yesterday of coffee, scarves and gloves, however small, had a significant impact on the homeless people we met. It touched them that we cared and spoke with them and laughed with them and treated them like people. I find the notion that I touched someone and helped someone in the smallest way very rewarding. However, if the next person doesn't, I don't hold it against them.

That's why I'm on the fence about the uproar surrounding the Herald Square H&M's disposal of clothes that aren't purchased via NYMag.com. I'm sure they join a long list of companies, like restaurants, who do away with their product once they're certain it won't be sold. Do I like it? Of course not.

But I certainly won't condemn and slander H&M because of it. It may not be the most morally upright practice, but it's not against the law. And more importantly, it's their decision no matter what we all feel they should do.

Don't get me wrong---I'm sure they have their reasons for not donating those clothes to the homeless. Maybe there is a degree of selfishness attached to it, like my friend suggested over the phone. Perhaps it's because, as a commenter on the Cut Blog claimed, no one wants to see a military jacket they paid a grip for given out to someone for free. (For the record, I actually wouldn't mind. It was going to the trash anyway and if it's going to someone in need, I'm with it). Another argued that if H&M clothes are given away for free, why would we have any incentive to buy them? The most viable explanation I've heard is that they don't want it recycled back into the market and resold.

I personally would prefer if, instead of discarding these clothes, the Herald Square H&M donated them to one of the many clothing drives that give back to the homeless throughout New York City. That's what I do to the hoards of dresses I never wear, and it feels good. But I'm a young, compassionate woman who enjoys giving back. Not the manager of a multi-million dollar franchise. And we should be able to have a difference of opinion without it getting ugly.

What do you think, Glamazons? Will you still shop at H&M knowing that they've discarded clothes that weren't purchased? Do you think they are obligated to give back?




Photos: NYMag.com.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with you on this....giving back is a personal choice. I personally give back to my community, but it is as you say by CHOICE. Now while H&M is not PROFESSIONALLY obligated to give back, they should as human beings (especially during these times) feel MORALLY obligated to give back. No it doesn't financially benefit them to donate the clothes, but it doesn't financially benefit the other stores that may do just that. It doesn't financially benefit Bill Gates to donate to scholarship funds or Apple to donate computers to schools (Apple built a whole computer lab on my HBCU campus), but these companies do it out of a sense of moral obligation to the global community around them. However, again, it's all by choice.

For now I won't say that I'll completely stop shopping at H&M, but with this info now out in the public it will make me think twice about supporting a company that willingly ignores the community.

Esther said...

UNBELIEVEABLE! I think it's very low of these stores to shred up clothes. No charity is not mandatory and they are not obligated to volunteer their unwanted clothing to others but they could at least give it to the homeless, or Salvation Army or something. At the very least that could turn into a good Public Relations campaign for them: "H&M Donates Extra Clothing to Charitable Cause". Even if they didn't give it directly to the homeless but gave it to their daughters or some program for underprivileged youth/young adults that would be a better use of it. Shredding clothes is immature and a complete waste of money. I don't know how I feel about these companies anymore...

Charmaine, Body Magic Rep said...

You're right...it's definitely a personal choice. I don't think it's fair to impose morals on people either. However, I definitely won't be supporting stores that find it more appropriate to shred clothes versus donating them to people that don't have any.

I can understand how people would feel a certain way about having people get clothes free that they paid a grip for BUT the difference is that homeless people don't wear it for fashion...it's out of necessity.

I think the US in a sad state right now. Making money is more important to people than helping the less fortunate. You can't impose your views but at the same time I hold people in higher positions to do better things. The head people are at these large companies collecting bonuses while you have the people that are doing the physical work collecting pennies to make it. There is something wrong with that. Greed has taken over.

This was an excellent post!

The Budget Brides Handbook said...

I totally agree with giving back it is not only our responsiblity but it is also our duty as human beings. However, I wonder what the business logic is about not donating the clothes. I know that in retail if it doesn't make dollars then it don't make sense. But not giving the clothes to charity doesn't make sense to me because they should be able to get a tax break. I wish we all could be a fly on H&M's corporate walls right now. Great Post!!!

Anonymous said...

H&M DOES donate. This "article" was truly not fact checked. A simple viewing of www.hm.com/csr confirms the retailer regularly donates to UNICEF, UNHCR, Caritas, the Red Cross and Helping Hands, among others.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:49 -

I must have overlooked the part of this post that claimed H&M doesn't donate at all. Both WWD and New York Magazine reported that the Herald Square H&M was shredding clothes that were unworn, NOT donating them. Sure they list charities on their website, but that's not what the article is even referring to. And that doesn't make it okay to discard clothes that aren't sold. If they do donate, as you emphatically claim, they should do it across the board.

Anonymous said...

It would make more sense to me if they just removed the labels and then donated them to Dress for Success or the homeless or even under priviledged teens.
I applaud you for giving out warm clothes. Today it is the coldest here that I have ever experienced and I began my morning by texting loved ones to beg them to dress warm and wear gloves.

Bernie, COCOACHiC Beauty said...

Well said Coutura that it is an individual's choice to choose to volunteer, and if so, the designation of that charitable obligation. However, what irritates me is people that don't give back at all. I don't frequent H&M, so I am not dettered. As a marketing professional and member of management, I can confirm that the friends you profiled are correct as to why a company does not donate all excess product and elects to destroy. Just as the emotion to 'give' or 'share' is natural, so is 'covet' and much of commerce today is driven by the emotional marketing of 'exclusivity'. Just a thought, H&M may do corporate giving in another way, possibly monetary, so all facets of their position should be considered.

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