Rockville and Montgomery County police arrested 21 people during a protest at the outdoor recreation store REI on Saturday afternoon, police said.
The demonstration, organized by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), had about 40 participants in total, most of whom are college students. Julia Wang, the group’s spokeswoman, said the group was rallying against REI’s refusal to cut ties with clothing company the North Face, which they argue abuses human rights in its labor practices.
Police intervened in the demonstration Saturday when protesters refused to leave REI’s Rockville store as they chanted and blocked the entrance and cash registers, police said. One protester said that others involved in the demonstration remained outside the store and were told to leave.
“If they were just outside, it wouldn’t have been a problem,” Rockville Police Lt. Brian Paul said. “I think they were trying to draw attention to themselves.”
A manager at the REI store referred questions to the company’s headquarters, and REI officials did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.
Paul said the demonstrators complied with police requests, and those who were arrested received citations and fines. They were released from the Rockville city police station after a little more than an hour. They face a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
The protest was part of a national “day of action” that involved demonstrations at more than 30 REI stores around the country. The participants are asking REI to end a contract with the North Face and its parent company, VF Corp., because the company has not signed an agreement promising safety standards in clothing factories in Bangladesh.
That agreement, known as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, was reached after deadly factory fires in the country. It has the signatures of officials with more than 150 apparel companies.
“It’s unfortunate that USAS has made REI the latest target in their campaign to spread misinformation,” VF spokesman Craig Hodges wrote in an e-mail. “VF and The North Face are deeply committed to the safety of the people making our products around the world, as demonstrated by the financial resources we’ve invested and the actions we’ve taken to continually improve working conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh.”
VF is a founding member of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, an organization of North American clothing companies that also commits to improving the standards of worker safety in Bangladesh.