American Apparel Reaffirms Support For Free Speech, Changes Media Policy

Good internal communications is going to be critical.

American Apparel has changed its media policy after complaints to the National Labor Relations Board accused the company of “silencing” workers.

A previous policy is quoted on Buzzfeed as prohibiting workers from having any contact with the media “insofar as it relates to American Apparel (including among other topics as to current and former employees and as to our business and operations).”

Three workers filed complaints, with Buzzfeed reporting that there was a lot of internal unrest with the departure of the controversial CEO Dov Charney. Workers, concerned about hours and other issues, formed a group just as new CEO Paula Schneider was assuming the role and trying to get things in order. It’s troubling for American Apparel that workers were so upset they were moved to form something like a union. That the problems spilled over to the media is bigger trouble.

Add to that the company has a reputation for worker’s rights. So when one of the workers, Ana Amador, accused American Apparel of “accosting” her, you’ve got issues on top of issues.

The new policy, which Buzzfeed got a screenshot of, emphasizes, “Free speech is a core value of our Company.” So, workers can speak with the media about their own views. But they are to refer questions about “the Company’s position on an issue, or to speak on behalf of the Company” to Liz Cohen at Weber Shandwick or to Chelsea Grayson, American Apparel’s GC.

According to Grayson, the original policy was only meant to advise workers to refer inquiries about the company’s positions to others, not stifle free speech.

American Apparel has a ton of problems to deal with, from slipping sales numbers to lingering questions about Charney’s leadership. Managing internal communications is something the company can and should get a firm grasp on. American Apparel’s leadership has quickly learned that workers are the face of the company to both customers and the media. Keeping the lines of clear communication open will be critical.

Moreover, despite all of the negative coverage of the company, there are aspects of American Apparel’s reputation that need to be preserved and maintained. With all of the talk about worker’s rights at retailers these days, American Apparel ought to work hard to stay on the right side of that discussion.