Bye bye Dov Charney (A quick lesson on ousting troublesome CEOs)

It’s not like we needed more proof that Cash Rules Everything Around… well, us… but last week the world got its latest reminder thanks to dick-swinging Dov Charney (Google it if you dare), founder and former CEO of American Apparel and the company’s board.

Charney has a long and very public history of alleged sexist and racist behavior, including having at least 5 sexual harassment lawsuits filed against him and a catalog of controversial advertising that is often child-porn-esque. Despite the years of lawsuits and his many public celebrations of male privilege, it wasn’t until American Apparel began losing tens of millions of dollars, they had trouble courting investors and their insurance premiums grew exponentially, all due to Charney’s behavior, that the board finally decided it was time to cut ties with the company’s founder.

In the board’s termination letter to Charney they detailed the many offenses that cost the company money. The most outstanding of these were; repeated incidents of sexual harassment, buying the silence of those he harassed with company funds, allowing employees to run a “revenge porn blog” against a former employee who was suing Charney, and his refusal to attend mandatory sexual harassment trainings while also dissuading his employees from attending. Oh and this gem of a fact;

“The Company’s employment practices liability insurance retention has grown to $1 million from $350,000, causing an unacceptable level of risk for the Company, and the premiums for this insurance are well outside of industry standards. These risks and costs to the Company are a direct result of [Charney’s] actions.”

I have to say, never have I been happy to hear about rising insurance costs… until now. Guess there’s a first time for everything!

But let’s be clear here, it wasn’t Charney’s actions alone that got him fired, only the fact that they cost the company so much money. So to put it more succinctly; the complaints and working conditions of American Apparel’s employees didn’t (and still don’t) mean shit… only the dollars lost. Which is ironic given that American Apparel often led the fight against the sweat shop working conditions that exist in much of the fashion industry.

Times like this it’s easy for an activist like me to get angry and shake a clenched fist at capitalism. But this time, I’m choosing to view the situation differently. I’m going to take this incident as a reminder that the choice of where we spend our dollars is one of the biggest tools in the activist toll box. Used in a focused way, it can be a force of change. Honestly I don’t know if the company’s losses in 16 of the past 17 quarters are the result of boycotts or not. But I do know that I’ve never bought a thing from American Apparel. Whatever the cause, there’s no denying that they led to Charney’s well deserved and long overdue canning. 

Please excuse me if this news makes me want to celebrate. I know there are plenty of problems… bigger problems left to tackle in this world, and we can debate the completeness of this victory (did activism play a role in his firing? Who knows… Will he get his job back? Time will tell… Plus, the board did offer to pay him a pretty hefty severance) but whatever. If we don’t celebrate the small victories we’ll burn ourselves out. In the end there’s one less sexist, racist, sexually harassing pervert of a CEO working in Corporate America and I can’t lie… that makes me smile just a bit.



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