|Feb 4, 2011|
The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous. --Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) On the 23rd anniversary of Emancipation in Washington, D.C.
It was hard in the sense that there are emotions associated with that history. The pure economics weren't so difficult. --Philip Marineau, CEO, Levi Strauss & Co, on the closure of the SF factory
None of us completely deserves what we got. When we work at a homeless shelter, we see that there, but for the grace of God, go I. --Philip Marineau, CEO, Levi Strauss & Co, in Compassionate Capitalism, 2004
In case you hadn't noticed, I can't seem to let this Levi's topic end. Make jeans here, Levi Strauss, where we buy and wear them. And I'm not talking about the $148-per-pair 501s you're making at an outsourced factory in Los Angeles for Brooks Brothers. Those are better than nothing, but come on. Get real.
How about the kind you used to make here for like $60? The kind we all wear. The kind garment workers who'd make the jeans would buy, creating "capital," as Dad called it, the oil that keeps this country's engine humming along. Take that capital away and the engine sputters. It's no mystery why our poverty levels in this country are the highest they've been in our recorded history. Opening factories here at home would be a "virtuous" way to do business, don't you think?
Frederick Douglass, as history.rochester.edu reminds us, "was one of the foremost leaders of the abolitionist movement, which fought to end slavery in the decades prior to the Civil War." I include Mr. Douglas's eloquent quote because it speaks to honesty. Are corporations ethical and honest when they flee a country (ours) that abolished slavery only to operate out of factories in other countries where working conditions are questionable (Lesotho)? Hmm.
And as I thought about honesty, it occurred to me that something's missing on the Levi Strauss &Co website's 17-page "Heritage Timeline." It bothers me because I'm sure many people use it to conduct research, especially school kids. The timeline lays out the company's progression, from 1873 to the present. It's careful to mention Levi's early loyalty to its factory workers, how the company continued to "keep employees working" after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. And it mentions philanthropic work. Support of orphanages. UC Berkeley scholarships. Rebuilding parts of the community around its original Valencia factory site, "creating a community gathering place." But oddly enough, although the Heritage Timeline tells us about Levi's expansion into global markets, it never mentions factory closures in the USA.
In the spirit of honesty and virtue, perhaps Mr. Marineau could have his Timeline writer delineate the dates each factory closed and the number of jobs lost when that happened. Here, to help fill in the gaps, are two such stories. The first, about the closure of Levi's factory in San Francisco, where 100 workers lost their jobs. The second tells of the closures of the remaining Levi's factories. And now, my fellow Americans, there are none.
In speaking of his experiences volunteering at a homeless shelter, Mr. Marineau says "there but for the grace of God, go I." To which I say: There but for the grace of Levi's hard-working, loyal early founders go you. Read your company's Timeline. Take a cue from Mr. Levi Strauss. Open new factories, give those homeless people jobs. Someday they could see one less fortunate and say, "There but for the grace of Mr. Marineau go I."
Good news, just in time for Valentine's Day: All American Clothing looks like a reasonable Levi's substitute. 100 % Made in the USA. Tracks products from fields through to completion, certified by an independent entity. Stay tuned. I'm ordering a pair of men's jeans for my Valentine. We shall see…