While shoppers may believe that the merchandise on the shelves of their local TJMaxx, Marshalls, or other off-price store consists of castoffs from department stores, there simply isn’t enough of that kind of merchandise to keep every store filled. Instead, off-price retailers fill their racks with items that come directly from factories, and some of those factories have been linked to terrible labor practices.
A former chief executive of TJX, parent company of TJMaxx and Marshalls, explained to USA Today back in 2011 that 85% of the merchandise in any given store may have been produced for TJX directly.
Part of how the chain gets those excellent rock-bottom prices is volume, the Boston Globe explains in an excellent story about the TJX supply chain.
Stores in the TJX family now sell more clothes every year than Macy’s does, which means that the retailers can get a better deal on, say, Ralph Lauren polo shirts than Macy’s.
So rather than purchase castoffs from designer brands, the Globe claims that TJX is able to license these brands and have items produced for a lower cost at factories around the world.
Some shoppers have sued TJMaxx over these allegedly lesser-quality products, claiming that the retailer misled customers by comparing prices on items that weren’t actually identical.
Beyond issues of quality and transparency, there are matters of human rights and possible labor violations involved in the manufacture of lower-cost versions of big brands.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division accused multiple Los Angeles-area contract garment-makers of underpaying workers by hundreds of thousands of dollars. The accused contractors made clothing for TJX, Urban Outfitters, Ross, Forever 21, Dillard’s, and more.
A 2016 report [PDF] from the Wage and Hour Division revealed more issues with products sourced by TJX. This larger investigation into L.A.-area garment contractors found wage, overtime, and record-keeping violations in 85% of cases, with some workers earning as little as $4 an hour.
Because these factories are contractors or sub-contractors, and not owned by TJX or any of the other retailers, the brands are able to distance themselves somewhat from any bad behavior.
When the Globe asked whether it checks up on the companies making the clothes that fill its stores, a representative for TJX responded, “We fully expect ALL of our vendors to comply with our Vendor Code of Conduct.” That doesn’t answer the question.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.