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June 11, 2020Release: Dollar Tree Must Do More To Eliminate Hazardous Chemicals From Its Stores, Environmental Justice Advocates Say

Advocates Purchased Shares to Attend Dollar Tree Annual Shareholder Meeting and Voice Concerns Directly to Executives

Contact; Alex P. Kellogg, Communications Strategist, Coming Clean
802-251-0203 x709, akellogg@comingcleaninc.org


The Campaign for Healthier Solutions (CHS), which is dedicated to getting toxic products out of dollar stores and helping them stock local, sustainably-produced healthy foods, is deeply concerned Dollar Tree did not express during its annual meeting of shareholders Thursday a commitment to going beyond its previously-stated goal of removing 17 highly-hazardous chemicals from the products it sells by 2020. We do appreciate, as we have said in the past, this first step by the company, as well as its stated commitment to making further progress in future years.  However the retailer needs to go further, by both expanding its list of restricted chemicals and the types of products covered, and by sharing detailed progress updates with shareholders and the public.

While the company reiterated its commitment to phasing out 17 chemicals of concern, it provided no further concrete updates on its shareholders call, and its latest sustainability report, which Dollar Tree CEO Gary M. Philbin referred to at the meeting, is hardly different from past years: it provides no specific updates or data on progress made toward eliminating toxic products from Dollar Tree stores, and does not define goals for further, ongoing improvement.. The company has also failed to continue to engage CHS, whose allies are shareholders in Dollar Tree, in any form of dialogue, and has failed to commit to selling fresh fruits and vegetables on its shelves. None of these concerns were addressed during the company’s annual shareholders call, and the company’s leadership skirted around key questions CHS and its allies submitted, which included how the retailer was going to expand its list of chemicals of concern and product scope, how it was going to publicly measure progress towards safer chemicals, and how it was going to introduce fresh fruit and vegetables in their stores. 

“We are deeply disappointed that Dollar Tree refused to answer our important questions during today’s shareholders meeting,” said José Bravo, National Coordinator of the Campaign for Healthier Solutions. “The questions that the Campaign for Healthier Solutions asked pertained to the health and security of Dollar Tree’s customers and workers. This refusal to answer investors is an affront to our communities of people of color and low-income residents. Dollar Tree is serving the underserved on a toxic plate.”

Company executives have slowly responded to pressure to remove hazardous chemicals from the products they sell by taking incremental steps toward improved safety measures for customers, first with an announcement to eliminate a set of toxic chemicals from products it sells by 2020.  Then, in 2019, Dollar Tree elected to join the Chemical Footprint Project, which works to help brands understand market risks stemming from toxic chemicals in products and the incentive for safer chemical and product substitutes.  While it fell short of a complete, transparent and protective corporate chemicals policy, public health and environmental justice advocates initially praised Dollar Tree's decision, which signaled it may be joining some of the nation's more proactive  retailers working on chemicals policy, such as Target and Staples, when it comes to protecting customers from chemical hazards. 

As the CHS pointed out in their letter to Dollar Tree’s leadership, best-in-class chemicals management by a retailer goes far beyond choosing some chemicals of concern to restrict in certain products.  It entails having a comprehensive chemicals policy endorsed by high-level company executives to monitor its implementation, and providing detailed public updates that transparently report the company’s progress toward meeting specific metrics.  The policy would clearly state the goals of avoiding chemicals of concern in all products sold and in the manufacturing processes of your suppliers.  The policy would also outline how the company is promoting the use of safer alternatives to the chemicals it restricts, and set measurable goals with a timeline for implementation, benchmarks to measure progress, and dates for public reporting of progress against metrics.  

“This is a justice issue," said Pam Nixon, President of People Concerned About Chemical Safety. “Communities of color and low-income people already face higher levels of environmental pollution and its resulting health impacts, so dollar store chains only make things worse by stocking toxic products on their shelves."

The Campaign for Healthier Solutions strongly urges Dollar Tree to disclose its progress with removing toxic chemicals from its products by publishing the relevant metrics, and likewise ask that the company expand its list of priority chemicals and the scope of the reduction and ultimate elimination of chemicals of concern. We further urge Dollar Tree executives to use Washington State’s Chemicals of High Concern to Children Reporting List, at a minimum, to expand beyond the current list of 17 chemicals it plans to phase out, as toxic exposure in the fetus or at an early age can be particularly devastating to development. Lastly, we urge Dollar Tree to release its Chemical Footprint Project results, and ask that it meet with the Campaign for Healthier Solutions so we can help the company make further progress.

Tracy Gregoire, Healthy Children Project Coordinator for the Learning Disabilities Association of America, asked Dollar Tree to expand their list of 17 chemicals to eliminate more harmful chemicals from products, especially those that harm brain health. “While their list includes lead in children’s products, the Learning Disabilities Association of America asks the company to expand this to eliminate lead in any product because we need to protect pregnant women in order to protect children, and there is no safe level of lead for kids.”

Dollar Tree operates more than 15,000 stores, including Family Dollar brand stores, which it acquired for $8.5 billion in 2015, making it one of the nation's largest discount retailers. Its size means that any steps to reduce toxic chemical use will have far-reaching impacts on public health and the environment—from the manufacture of product constituents to product disposal. 

As Dollar Tree CEO Gary M. Philbin noted on Thursday’s shareholders call, business is booming for the company. Dollar Tree and Family Dollar sold a record $23.61 billion in merchandise in 2019, and opened 518 new stores. Dollar Tree’s stock also rose more than 23 percent in May alone, compared to a 4.5% increase in the S&P 500 that month, as shoppers stocked up on cheap supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The coronavirus crisis has shown the very real need for readily-available, shelf-stable and healthy products,” said Helga Garcia-Garza, Executive Director of the Agri-Cultura Network, which is based in New Mexico. “The majority of our state is rural communities, and dollar stores are often the only stores available to these communities. Community members have already made it clear that healthy products in stores are both absolutely necessary and supported. Our governmental entities such as local school districts and hospitals in New Mexico support dollar stores selling fresh, healthy, locally and sustainably-grown produce. We just need dollar stores to get on board to both support healthy living and local farmers. That’s the type of business partners they should be.”

Hazardous chemicals in food and products sold by Dollar Tree are of particular concern to people of color and low-income communities as they disproportionately rely on these stores for nutrition and household goods.  Also, studies have shown people of color and the poor are often already exposed to chemical hazards at higher levels.  Although the dollar store market sector still lags far behind retailers who cater to more affluent customers, there are signs that dollar stores are moving to enact publicly-accountable policies to protect their customers and workers from hazardous chemicals.

Following the Dollar Tree shareholder meeting, members of CHS said they will continue educating shoppers about hazardous chemicals in Dollar Tree's products, and will continue pushing the company to adopt a more protective chemicals policy for healthier products on their shelves.  Advocates aren't calling for a boycott, but rather, they want Dollar Tree to make a more positive impact on the health and well-being of their customers, workers and disproportionately impacted communities.

The Campaign for Healthier Solutions, launched in February 2015 by Coming Clean and the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, is made up of more than 100 diverse environmental justice, medical, public health, community, women’s and other organizations. CHS works to challenge discount retailers, including Dollar Tree/Family Dollar, Dollar General and 99 Cents Only Stores to follow Target, Staples and other retailers in adopting corporate policies to identify and remove harmful chemicals from their stores. Our members have been shareholders in Dollar Tree since 2017. In late May, the Campaign for Healthier solutions put out a statement urging Dollar General to do more to remove toxic chemicals from its shelves following its annual shareholders meeting

 

In the fourth annual Report Card on Retailer Actions to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals, which CHS and the Mind the Store campaign collaborated on to grade dollar store chains, Dollar Tree received a “D+”, an upgrade from a “D” in 2018. Released in November, the report said the discount retailer could improve its standing by, among other things, sharing its timeline for completing the testing of its products, establishing and disclosing a “strong plan” for holding suppliers accountable to its chemical policy, publicly disclosing clear metrics and results, returning to its original plan of working toward eliminating priority chemicals from both private-label and brand-name products, ensuring oversight by senior management, and generally being more transparent about how its policies and commitments will be implemented and what progress is (or is not) occurring.

 

The report also stated the company should expand its policy to cover chemicals used in packaging and manufacturing processes, and to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), all toxic flame retardants, and all phthalates. It also urged the company to eliminate and safely replace toxic indirect food additives specifically in food contact materials, with special attention paid to any bisphenols (beyond BPA) and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that may be in food packaging and other food contact materials as well as any phthalates that may be in food and food contact materials in its supply chain.

 

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