(Photo: Reuters/Lily Bowers)
Forever 21, the popular Christian-owned apparel company, has said it's decision to cut certain full-time positions was not a response to the Affordable Care Act, yet some people who believe the company should pay for its employees' health insurance are questioning its values.
A memo from the company recently leaked onto the Internet, revealing that Forever 21 would reduce the number of full-time non-management positions starting Aug. 18. In addition to informing certain employees that they will no longer be able to work more than 29.5 hours each week, the memo also says they will lose their existing medical, dental, vision and other voluntary plan coverage as of Aug. 31.
After the announcement was made many people began decrying the company's decision on social media. Some have suggested the company just wanted to avoid providing health insurance for some employees, which it will be required to do under the Affordable Care Act for those who work 30 hours or more, though the company denies it.
"Forever 21, like all retailers, staffs its stores based on projected store sales, completely independent of the Affordable Care Act," Forever 21 said in a statement emailed to The Christian Post. "After a recent evaluation, Forever 21 realigned its staffing needs to better reflect sales expectations. This realignment impacted 196 employees, less than 1% of all U.S. store employees. Furthermore, Forever 21 regularly promotes and converts employees in the ordinary course of business. Since the start of our fiscal year, March 1, 2013, Forever 21 has converted 421 part-time store employees to full-time status making them benefits eligible. Forever 21 values all of its employees and made every effort to affect as few employees as possible in this realignment."
The company also issued a similar statement on Facebook, yet many people continued to criticize it for not displaying what they believe are Christian values, and some simply said they would no longer shop at Forever 21 stores.
"So which of the two faces is Forever 21.....The reference to the Bible on your bags, because of the 'Christian values' you believe in, or the obvious move to just be another greedy, selfish, cruel corporation?" wrote one Facebook user. "Your actions speak much louder than your words and these actions tell the story that you could care less about your employees."
While many people were outraged with the company, others shifted the blame elsewhere.
"You're blaming the wrong person....blame the the occupant of the Oval Office for this, not F21," said another Facebook user.
In her column for The Washington Post's "On Leadership" blog, Jena McGregor said the controversy raises several questions about how beneficial it is for a leader to show their faith publicly through their company.
"And most of all, when a P.R. crisis erupts, does a company that shares Bible verses with its customers risk falling further in the minds of customers than a company that doesn't?" wrote McGregor. "Probably so. Whether or not Forever 21 thinks it has a responsibility to live up to a different set of business practices than its peers, many of its customers probably think it does."
Forever 21 founders Do Won and Jin Sook Chang, who Forbes reports had a net worth of $4.5 billion as of March, are unabashedly Christian. In fact, each of the store's shopping bags has "John 3:16" printed on its bottom.
The Los Angeles-based company employs about 30,000 people, according Forbes, and brought in about $3.4 billion in sales in 2012. But Do Won said in a interview with CNN last year that meeting God was a "turning point" for him and that money wasn't a motivating factor in his success.
"Many people look for an easy life after success. But, what I wanted, was a life that helped the lives of others. And that pushed me to work harder," he told CNN through a translator. "After going on numerous mission trips, I realized how happy I was to be able to help others. So, my logic was that. I would be able to help more people if I worked harder. Maybe that's why I am where I am. Money was not my objective and I just kept going forward. And, without my knowing, the company has grown this big. All in all, it's something to be grateful for."