Staff being young and hip is a matter the company takes very seriously. Speaking about unacceptable conduct, it warns: “Any team member found engaging in any of the below acts will be subject to disciplinary action which may include counselling, warnings or instant dismissal.”
A Cotton On spokeswoman would not tell The Age if any of its workers had been laid off for not being fun enough.
She said its aforementioned values show what’s expected of Cotton On’s staff.
"If a team member were to be found to behave in a manner or represent themselves in a way that was not honest, genuine, respectful and transparent (for example) then yes – we would consider those behaviours to be a misalignment with our value of ‘Keeping it Real’,” she told the paper.
There is no confirmation whether this code of conduct applies to Cotton On’s New Zealand employees, too.
Its careers website shows 39 jobs available in New Zealand, but none of the previous values are mentioned in the job descriptions.
Nigel Austin founded the company in 1991, in Geelong, Australia.
It now has nine brands under its belt, including Typo, Rubi shoes and Cotton On Kids, resulting in over 1300 stores and over 19,000 employees worldwide that are “keeping it real.”
The company made headlines last year after a quote from 2004 cult film Mean Girls, “You Can’t Sit With Us,” was printed on bags, clutches and T-shirts.
This caused a stir amongst the public, with many of them taking to social media to say it promoted bullying.
One user posted, ““Really, Cotton On? I know it’s a quote from Mean Girls and I know it is meant to be cute but don’t we have enough trouble with bullying? #nobullys #retail fail.”
The products were pulled from the range.
Cotton On Group's corporate office released a statement in response to the article the day after it was printed in Australia:
"The Cotton On Group is disappointed with the article published by Fairfax today. The article was inaccurate and a misrepresentation of our culture, values and employment practices.
We are extremely proud of our culture and the values upon which this culture is built and we absolutely encourage our team members to embrace and embody these.
To clarify, our values and the referenced Code of Conduct are not conditions of employment, as was clearly expressed to the journalist."
Starbucks has also attracted negative media attention for its demands on staff, after announcing it would encourage baristas to try to talk to customers about race relations. Baristas will write “Race Together” on coffee cups before handing them out, before seeking to engage the customer in a conversation.
“When did you first become aware of your race?” is one question a barista might ask a patron who is interested in starting one of these free-range “organic dialogues," Starbucks’ spokesperson Linda Mills told the Christian Science Monitor.
What could possibly go wrong?