Offensive or Effective?
Controversial artwork on a garment can be offensive and illegal. How do clothing companies police their orders?
What happens when you accept an order and suddenly find that you have a problem with the artwork messaged? Product Media asked a number of companies whether they had policies in place on how to handle this and almost none did.
Admittedly, this is not a common occurrence, however with apparel being a very powerful communication tool for charities, political parties, action groups and unions, some businesses may vehemently disagree with the message. For example, one company was given some work for one of the life sciences companies. However, it wasn’t sent through the company but through an agency. The owner of the company who had a big issue with animal testing, said he couldn’t do the job. Typical areas of controversial subjects would be religious, sexual and political messages. It would also extend to racist overtones or profanity.
We spoke to one supplier who said they had an incident when one of the print workers didn’t feel comfortable with a job and was given the opportunity to work on a different job. What would happen if this wasn’t possible? Do staff have the right not to print or work on a job that they have a fundamental issue with?
Another distributor head, said, anything that looks a little risqué would be brought to their attention and a decision would then be made as a collective. He said that the company was based on an ethical code, and it didn’t want one job to damage this.
We also asked our legal team whether by accepting an order that might be illegal under the law, could the distributor or printer be culpable?
An offensive Hillsborough T-shirt sparked an online outcry which resulted in the arrest of the man wearing it. But almost as soon as the arrest, and subsequent charging of the man was announced, some who had been complaining began to wonder if it was even illegal to wear an item of clothing deemed to be offensive. Well, yes, it is.
This relates to the display of threatening and abusive signs and words, likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress. Wearing a T-shirt with a perceived offensive message is no different to someone coming up to you in the street and causing you distress or alarm with their words or behaviour.
The challenge we have now is that with social media, this message could be shared many times causing multiple distress.
If you search google, it is amazing how many websites are promoting ‘offensive T-shirts’. As an industry, we constantly talk about how effective clothing is as a method of communicating a message. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that some choose to use the medium in a way that offends rather than informs.
Andrew Hill explains how the pen manufacturer polices orders:
“At Senator as a manufacturing ‘brand’, we refuse to accept any print matter which ‘may cause offence’.This is a wide-ranging term, but generally indicates language and/or images which may cause offence.
If a member of staff is upset with something which may not seem to be overtly offensive (but it is for them) then we will respect their view and will have a colleague oversee the workflow process.
We have several requests every year which include an offensive word or imply offence. We will not, under any circumstances, proceed with the order, even if it is deemed to be ‘light-hearted’ amongst its intended target audience. This is a group policy across Europe.
We explain the potential risk of damage to our brand from such an order and, in the majority of cases, this is understood and accepted.”