Wednesday, January 6

If You Wait Long Enough, H&M Clothes Shred Themselves

I've been the store employee instructed to discard of unsold and damaged goods. Fortunately, though, I've never stood in the back room of an H&M and destroyed perfectly good clothing, clothing that could have been donated to a local shelter, the Salvation Army, or directly to needy families.

If you haven't by now read the NY Times article revealing that a New York H&M store routinely cut up and then threw away unsold clothing, you should. I'll wait.

I first came across the story on twitter (via @KshrGirl). After initially being angry about the report, I set out to see if there was another side to the story. I found a lot of information from H&M saying that it was an isolated incident and that corporate policy was not to destroy unsold clothes.

Then twitter told me otherwise.

I heard from a former department manager who worked there from 2006 through 2008. She worked at several stores in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. They did the same thing at every store she went to.

And what about now?

Another twitter friend sent me a direct message to say that she works at one of the Pittsburgh stores now. She was instructed by a manager to destroy items as recently as a week ago. The items weren't returns that had obviously been worn. They weren't stained. They weren't damaged. They were articles that had been in the store several months and just plain hadn't sold. There was nothing wrong with them until she took scissors to them and cut them up.

I get the business side of this whole thing. It's important to make sure that the items on the sales floor live up to the quality standards and reputation of the company. I was a manager at Stein Mart for four years and was frequently tasked with deciding what to do with items that had been damaged, returned, or hadn't sold. We worked very hard to salvage what we could. If an item was damaged but still salable, it was marked down and sold. If an item was stained, our seamstress would pull out some magical cleaner, a little elbow grease, and get the item back to new condition. If an item was beyond hope, it was destroyed. If it just plain wouldn't sell, it was sent to a different store and given another chance. (Ever been to a brand new store and wondered how they had clearance items? That's how.) If the item wasn't worth shipping elsewhere, it was donated locally. Sure, it took time, but so does destruction and waste.

I'm breaking up with H&M. I can't support a company that I know cares more about reputation than they do about giving back to the community.

Now I'm just wondering what other companies need to be added to my black list.

59 comments:

  1. This is just horrible, I cant believe they would do this to perfectly good clothing, it sickens me.

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  2. I am not that familiar with H & M and based on this, I don't want to be. There are two in Indy and I didn't even know it. Shows you how much shopping I do. This disgusts me and I'm like you, wondering how many other clothing companies do this. If you find out, let me know so I can add them to my black list.

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  3. Angela9:46 PM

    And someone @'ed me that they do it in Paris too. Unreal. I have an H&M coat that I used to love and wear every day. I'm donating it tomorrow.

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  4. @Kristi--It's like Old Navy, but slightly more stylish. Still low cost and sort of "disposable." I've never liked them for stuff for me, but I do shop there for Alexis. At least, I used to. I'm done now.

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  5. Word from a Dick's employee is that they try to salvage what they can. The do destroy and throw away damaged items they are possibly repairable (e.g. a winter coat with a broken zipper). I can see why they would do that. Still wonder if there's a better way.

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  6. And now from a Hallmark employee: "I worked for Hallmark, and we destroyed TONS of stuff in perfect condition...stuffed animals, candles, etc. Just "old.""

    The employee asked if the things could be donated and was told no. This was also in Pittsburgh.

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  7. I worked clothing retail for several years and thankfully we never destroyed anything at the places I was employed. This is absolutely WRONG. Shame on them.

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  8. Let me just say that last Martin Luther King day, BFF Jill and I hit the motherlode in the dumpster behind Bed, Bath and Beyond. Some of the items that were tossed were a 7 inch digital photo frame, a digital toaster oven (that was missing the middle rack) and a very tall, very expensive ceramic heater. The heater was returned because it kept blowing their circut. Well they must have had crappy wiring, because it is working fine in the salon. We got a whole truck load of stuff that day. We kept some items and donated some to St. Vincent De Paul.

    Another thing that ticks me off is places like McD, every so often, a buzzer goes off. ALL food that is out, at that moment, gets thrown away. That food could feed someone in need, not that it is healthy food, mind you, but a meal is a meal when you are starving. All tehe food is disposed of in containers that you can't get into. They don't want the homeless eating the food. I guess they are afraid if a homeless person eats someting and gets sick they will sue.

    Dumb, dumb, dumb.

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  9. You may be starting a revolution. Let me rephrase . . . I HOPE you start a revolution.

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  10. wow - that's just plain WRONG! I've only been to one H&M (in Montreal) and it so did not live up to the hype that it was given by some of my friends. So glad I never invested in that relationship as I'm sure it would be a hard break-up :(

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  11. TjMaxx. Robinson. My cousin worked there a year or so ago. They shred all unsold merchandise at some point.

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  12. Wow, that's so, so wrong. I know Target donates unsold items at the end of the season to local Goodwills- I don't understand why other stores wouldn't do the same.

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  13. H&M needs to suck it. Seriously. SUCK IT H&M. SUCK. IT.

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  14. Thats really shitty. I have never shopped there and i never will because of that now. I am really shocked that they would shred the clothes. good lord some cheap store like gabriels would probably BUY it from them. or donate it to local charities for battered familes. jez...

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  15. Wow, never heard of anything more ridiculous!

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  16. It's just sickening isn't it? Especially at this time of year when people could really *really* use extra clothing. :(

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  17. You know what else kills me? When I drive by a bakery/Dunking Donuts/Bagel Store late at night or early morning and see bags and bags of food in the trash. BAGS OF FOOD.

    Think about that.

    BAGS. OF. FOOD.

    Bagels, croissants, muffins...in the trash.

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  18. I'm making a list and checking it twice. This just disgusts me.

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  19. This makes me sick. Years ago, my friend's brother-in-law & his friend used to go dumpster diving at the mall and take everything they found to the local shelters. One time, he got caught by mall security and they told him that they weren't allowed to let him take it - that it HAD to be disposed of. Luckily, he knew one of the security guard's parents, and he gave him some shit and the guy gave in.

    He also discovered that shoes were often separated and put in different dumpsters so they can't be used if only one is found.

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  20. @SupahMommy--I wonder how much of TJMaxx doing it is because of their vendors. I know at Stein Mart we were required to destroy Polo/Ralph Lauren items because they demanded as much as part of their vendor agreement. If you want to do business with Ralph Lauren, you play by their rules. Not that it makes it OK (Ralph Lauren has been on my black list for years for more than just that), but I wonder if it's not the store making the decision.

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  21. Anonymous8:57 AM

    as far as i know from working there Charlotte Russe does not do this. They box it up and put it in the back room if it doesn't sell, then when they have ridiculous Buy 1 get 2 Free Sales they drag it out. Otherwise it sits around for a long time.
    One place that does destroy stuff that really bothers me if craft stores (michaels in particular). Seasonal handmade wreaths- Go in two days after christmas (or any other season or holiday) you'll get those wreaths normally priced at $50 for $10 or $15. Even better, when you see they only have a few left, make an offer- you could get them for as low as $5. Otherwise they are headed for the trash compactor. They could be donated to senior care homes that need decorations. Also, about a year ago they decided to cancel thier classroom program and concentrate on kids classes. There was a list of what was to be kept and everything else was to be thrown away. We asked numerous times if the items could be donated. We knew lots of childrens homes, daycares, etc that could have benefited from paints and markers and scrapbook paper. Fortunately our manager looked the other way while we "disposed" of items- but really took them home, donated them outside of the Michaels company, and corporate never knew the difference.

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  22. *ahem*
    I worked at Fredericks of Hollywood.
    Stuff that was *ahem* stained or *AHEM* returned was destroyed.

    Honestly? After all the clitty litter I saw working there? It was for the better.

    But poo poo on everyone else for destroying perfectly usable clothing.

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  23. Oh mah holy hell ^^^^ moosh

    M ~ I'm so glad you wrote about this. I was terribly disturbed reading this yesterday and appalled at the waste.

    I worked restaurants.. you know, in my other life.. and we never threw away good food. It was given to employees to take home to their families, or to take and donate.

    I am appalled and I will do my best to know more about where I shop.
    xo

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  24. Target does donate because I found patio chairs at the Mcknight Road Goodwill with all the store wrappings on them at the end of the season.

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  25. I'm so disturbed. Could you keep a list of the stores doing this so we can all blacklist?

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  26. i assistant managed a dairy queen for a few years and when they first introduced the thin mint blizzard for the first time - we were in a three month contract. we were supposed to order mass quantities of the cookies, but the blizzards didn't sell as well as they expected, so we ended up with TONS left over. keep in mind the cookies came in 3 pound boxes - and we had at least 5 of these left over. instead of the girl scouts allowing DQ to use the rest of the cookies - they demanded that all the dairy queen stores throw away the cookies and if they found out we were still selling the blizzards or donated the cookies elsewhere (they were concerned that their logo was partnered with the DQ logo on the box), our inidividual stores would be fined thousands of dollars. so there's another example of corporate greed forcing us to waste perfectly good, donate-able product.

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  27. Shame on them. They should be donating them as a last resort, not destroying them.

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  28. As someone who has worked at 2 clothing stores and another personal care store: this destory and scissor policy is the same at every single store.

    Why?

    Because the corporations will not allow stores to donate the slightly unsold goods, and there are repercussions for not following that rule (ie being fired).

    And if we simply toss the item into the trash? I learned this one the hard way at work. When I took out the trash at 10 pm, a man was waiting for me. I said hello and tried my best to dump the stuff in the trash and run - I was alone in a shady parking lot at 10 pm. And he proceeded to jump in the dumpster, take the bags I had thrown away, and take them home with him. 2 weeks later those items were on eBay, and I actually found them.

    Corporations are essential protecting themselves from theft - sad but true.

    I don't agree with it... but if I started boycotting, I'd have to start making my own fabric and my own clothes - I know for a fact that my local fabric store destroys and stains fabric so it can't be reused.

    Damn corporate America.

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  29. My father in law worked at Macy's for years and reports that the same thing happens there. They throw everything away from clearance items that don't sell to major displays taht can be reused as furniture (just ask my MIL where her "built-in" bookcases are from... they are solid wood jean shelves used in a Ralph Lauren display that were about to be trashed.)

    I'm not appalled anymore... I used to be when I found this out about 8 years ago. But I guess I've become deadened to the fact that our country is so disgustingly wasteful while so many that live here go without.

    Target does donate, I also have seen Goodwill store with entire sections marked "NEW", all full of Target merchandise.

    And as far as the Girl Scouts go, they should be twice as ashamed. Theya re a non-profit organization that is closing councils all over the country. Those cookies should have been donated to local troops for their own purposes (resale or for their own snacks or whatever.)

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  30. I've got confirmation from three people that American Eagle does NOT destroy usable clothing.

    Gap brands do NOT destroy usable clothing.

    Abercrombie and Fitch does.

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  31. stateofmain9:28 AM

    I was at Panera on McKnight around closing time a couple of weeks ago and a man and a woman came in with a box, which an employee promptly loaded to the brim with pastries and left over bread. I don't know where they were from or where the food was going, but I can tell you that I definitely felt the opposite as your reaction to H&M.

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  32. tehamy9:31 AM

    What the clothing stores are doing is horrible. They shod be
    ashamed. It makes me even more angry that H&M is publicly stating that it is an isolated incident when clearly it isn't.

    I do want to defend the throwing away of food. A lot of non-profits have rules on the food that they accept. A lot of it is centered around what the food is and how old it is. I used to work with an agency who routinely received doughnuts from Krispy Kream. By the time they received the doughnuts, they were too old to give to the program participants. The agency told them as much, but were told to to keep the doughnuts and serve them to staff and volunteers, which they gladly did. So if you see an establishment throwing food away, it could be that they can't meet the donation requirements for food.

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  33. @tehamy--That's what is bothering me about H&M. I'm glad they are saying it won't happen again, but clearly they are lying when they say it was an isolated incident. It only took a few minutes for my tiny little twitter account to find several people who said they had done it at other locations.

    Also, absolutely true on the food. The Giant Eagle prepared foods one bugs me, but I can see how it would be tough to get that food donated in a timely manner and actually have it be edible. The still packaged Girl Scout cookies thing is a whole other story, though.

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  34. Never heard of them. Thanks for the heads up, though.

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  35. I did some remodeling work for a certain big box home improvement store - we had display items and old items that were constantly marked down until finally a product manager would mark it down in the system to $0.01 and then take it as a loss and throw it out.

    We were ordered to fire any contractor working on the project who was caught dumpster diving to retrieve these items.

    When asked about donating to Habitat for Humanity or another source, they didn't want to because the thought was that the receiving organization would re-sell their merchandise under the table. I assume its the same with these clothing retailers.

    I can't tell you how many $500 doors, table saws, fixtures were in that garbage...

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  36. @ted--It took me a minute to figure out what was odd about the idea of companies not wanting their donated items sold, and I finally figured it out. What makes Big Box Home Improvement store think that Habitat for Humanity is going to have luck selling something they couldn't sell? That's kinda humorous, actually.

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  37. Anonymous10:33 AM

    As someone who works for both a non-profit and a retail company, I am horrified by these stores that throw perfectly usable things out. I work for a high end kitchen & home furnishings company and we rarely throw things out...what is thrown out is unusable. Furniture, cooking electrics, etc. are all donated to local non-profits.

    My non-profit (and many others!) would love to take unsold clothing. We have kids that don't have winter coats and they're throwing them out?! As to non-profits reselling items for money, that's illegal. Our auditors would have a small problem with that.

    H&M makes me sick. I'm not shopping there anymore, that's for sure.

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  38. I read this yesterday, and it is definitely dissapointing. thanks for sharing!

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  39. BTW, Disney World doesn't waste a single thing. They donate a lot of the stuff that goes unsold and they have an employee only store where all the damaged goods wind up. There's some scary stuff in there, but they sell it so cheap that people are willing to take a chance. I have a Snow White beach towel where Snow White's face is missing for that exact reason.

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  40. This was quite an educational post for me. I never even considered things like that. It seems so terribly wrong. I guess I prefer being in the dark about corporate america. It makes it easier to sleep at night.

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  41. I worked at JCPenney for 5 years (although that was, uh, a FEW years ago) and I never saw them purposely destroy any merchandise.

    I appreciate that you gave me a heads up on this story because I just saw an ad for HM yesterday and was thinking I should check one out. Problem solved. Also, I appreciate the size of your heart in actually CARING that this happens. Some people wouldn't/don't. Good for you! Just another reason to read your blog...

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  42. This is completely disturbing! And, this might be a dumb question, but why do they have to shred them? Maybe we should start a group who goes to local places to pick up unwanted items to donate them? Probably the biggest issue for the companies is the time and money it would take to get the items to people who need them.

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  43. Worked construction in and around malls for more years than I care to remember. When retail stores began the "we take anything" return policy, it wasn't long before discarded merchandise started showing up at the return registers. It was the same scenario when merchandise was donated to non-profits, as well. Some people's kids.....

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  44. It is so important for us to find out about the places we support. I'm sure there are lots of unsavory things going on that we don't know about. Good for you for doing some investigating. No one should support a company like that.

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  45. Anonymous3:27 PM

    I worked at Urban Outfitters in two different locations and on a store level, the merchandise isn't destroyed. At least I never saw it done. As far as I know they bust it out for clearance events, or send it to other stores. The Soho store in manhattan gets a lot of unsold items from the other ones so when there are big sales they have a ton of shit they sell for cheap

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  46. I am so appalled I'm literally nauseous. I've bought things from H&M before, and we don't have one in Dallas (that I know of). But let me make this clear. Never, ever again will I spend a penny of my money there.

    My family shops there a lot in Montreal. You can bet I'm forwarding the NY Times story to them now and that will be four more customers they lose over this.

    As someone in PR, I can assure you that this what they call a PR nightmare. Let's make it even worse for them, shall we? They deserve it for such despicable behavior.

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  47. @stateofmain: Every Panera in the country does that. I worked at one in Pittsburgh, and every night someone from a food shelter would pick up any leftover items. Sometimes, when no pick up was scheduled (it only happened once the entire time I worked there), a manager would let us take food home. We never threw anything out unless it fell on the floor or passed its expiration date (which almost never happened).

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  48. So glad you got this story out so more of us would hear it (yes, I live a sheltered life). We need to compile a Good Company / Bad Comapny list and start sending it around.

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  49. Walmart? Throws away their nearly expired fresh veggies/fruits. My mom used to work there and she kept asking why they don't donate them to the food bank, and they claimed "it's not our policy."

    Sam's Club, however (at least the one in Erie) gives away their "expires today or tomorrow" cakes to the food bank. I know, because I saw a lady with one of those giant carts filled to the brim with cakes, and I asked her if she was having some huge party or something, and she told me. I don't know what they do with their fresh veggies/fruits though.

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  50. When I worked in a shelter, I was surprised by the stores/restaurants that donated leftovers and those that didn't. It was mostly small, independent places that donated. The only chain I recall was KFC. They donated chicken and things that were not sold at the end of the night to different charities on different nights. We got it on Tuesdays and Fridays and would bring it back to the shelter and leave out what might be eaten in 24 hours and freeze the rest.
    It is sad that companies can't be more creative when discarding unsold items. Rip out the labels and let someone get some use out of it!

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  51. wow. I'm so glad my fat butt can't fit into clothes at that store.

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  52. And I posted, as promised. I'm really hoping that there's something good that can come from us compiling a list. It seems like such an easy problem to solve. At the very least I'll know where to show and where not to shop.

    -Dawn (@LyriqueTragedy)

    http://tinyurl.com/y9rjxlp

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  53. that's ridiculous! I can see trying to save the clothes for sale, but shred instead of donate? Unacceptable. Shameful.

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  54. Anonymous9:05 AM

    @burghbaby - what you created here was awareness. We really need that. Overall, I am very concerned with the way the US has become a throw away society. When I talk to anyone outside of the US - the first thing they tell me that is culture shock, is the ammount of stuff we throw away. This culture has shifted to retailers. I bet you its cheaper, from a labor perspective, to throw things out then donate it.

    This culture of throwing things away needs to change - and it needs to change with the American Consumer. It is January 9th, and how many toys are broken you bought your kids? What are you doing with those broken toys? If you are throwing them away, then you are not part of the soliution, but a part of the problem. I have already returned 3 transformers, and I will continue to do so until I am satisfied. Companies are making cheap goods, taking american jobs, while we continue to accept goods that are not worth the money we pay for them. But we continue to buy it - and not demand quality, and continue to just keep throwing it away.

    I hope you have started a movement. There was a time when we, the consumer were in charge. Now, retailers are in charge and they know it. Demand quality goods. Support US companies like New Balance and Step 2 (Cleveland, OH). Do your part and donate your old toys and clothes. Do create a list of companies that you won't buy from, and forbid your kids to wear them, and tell them why.

    Its time we take the power back.

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  55. Anonymous11:07 AM

    I have worked for The Children's Place for over three years. They never throw away old merchandise. All of their clothes get marked down for sales and then are eventually transfered to outlet stores. I work at an outlet store and I actually casually asked my manager what happens to old clothes and she told me to go look in the back room at all of the extra summer clothes. The clothes are marked down to super low prices and stay in our store until every last one is sold. Definitely no wasted clothes there. So that's one company for the good list.

    I have seen Panera and Starbucks donate their old pastries and baked goods to non profit organizations.

    Urban Outfitters used to send their old merchandise to a thrift store that I worked for.

    Check out a documentary called "Dive!" by Jeremy Seifert. It's all about dumpster diving and the crazy amounts of food waste in the United States. It makes me sick to my stomach when I think about how wasteful corporate organizations are.

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  56. Anonymous9:40 AM

    walmart & victoria secret do the same as h&m

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  57. Anonymous5:19 PM

    I understand the outrage presented here about destroying unsold merchandise. But you need to remember that these companies aren't hurting anybody but themselves. They are taking a loss on it. They paid for the stuff and are able to do what they want with it. Sure it would be nice to donate it to charitable organizations, but its their money. They can do what they like.

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  58. Anonymous7:18 PM

    I worked at Panera for three years as a baker, and I would like to add to the previous comments that in addition to the nightly donation, Panera's policy is also to match all monetary donations from their boxes in front of the counters for local food banks and to provide free or seriously discounted catering to charity events. There is a bulletin board up at every Panera with details on how to submit a potential event, and corporate apporoves all legitimate requests. Recent movements within the company even use leftover boxes to prepare the food donations so that they look good and maintain the quality of the items put up for sale every day.

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