Dollar Tree Thrives During Pandemic, But Is Still Not Removing Toxic Chemicals Fast Enough
Author: Tracy Gregoire is the Healthy Children Project Director for the Learning Disabilities Association of America, and is a long-time advocate for children with neurological disabilities.
While many businesses are struggling due to the pandemic, discount stores like Dollar Tree are thriving. According to numbers the company made public at the end of August, even after accounting for roughly $135 million worth of COVID-19-related costs it incurred, Dollar Tree profits still rose by a whopping 45 percent in its most recent quarter. Thanks to these gains, the popular discount chain announced it plans to hire 25,000 associates in mid October.
Dollar Tree, which also owns the highly-profitable Family Dollar, is one of the largest retailers in North America. The discount chain owns more than 15,000 stores in 48 states and Canada, and along with their main competitor, Dollar General, they operate more stores than Walmart, Costco, Kroger and Home Depot combined.
Sadly, despite its soaring profits and growing market dominance, Dollar Tree has made little progress getting toxic products off its store shelves, and any progress they may have made they refuse to make public, leaving customers and parents in the dark.
October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month, and the Learning Disabilities Association of America is especially concerned about chemicals that harm the brain, like lead, phthalates, and hazardous air pollution. We know that environmental factors, including exposure to toxic chemicals, cause or contribute to at least a quarter of all learning and developmental disabilities. That’s why LDA was proud to join the Campaign for Healthier Solutions, a collaborative effort that aims to get dollar stores to remove toxic products from their shelves, and why LDA members across the country have been urging Dollar Tree to take action.
When the Campaign for Healthier Solutions tested a variety of products sold at Dollar Tree and other discount retailers, it found that 81 percent tested contained at least one hazardous chemical. Even microwave popcorn and canned foods sold at dollar stores were found to contain deeply concerning levels of harmful chemicals. A number of states have likewise documented high levels of harmful chemicals in Dollar Tree products. Prenatal exposure to some of these chemicals can result in lower IQ levels, as well as learning or behavioral problems. Yet there is actually no need to use many toxic chemicals because there are safe, affordable alternatives.
Many communities of color and low-income communities rely on discount stores like Dollar Tree for household products and food, and it is no secret that dollar stores are likewise frequently located in and depend on these communities. As these communities are already disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and the impacts of pollution and other chemical exposures, it is vitally important that Dollar Tree takes swift action to remove harmful chemicals from its stores and is transparent about its progress.
After their 2017 annual shareholder meeting, which I attended as a stock owner, Dollar Tree responded to pressure from LDA and the Campaign for Healthier Solutions, telling The Virginian-Pilot it had asked suppliers in December 2016 and January 2017 to eliminate 17 chemicals of concern from certain product categories. “Our goal is to eliminate the use of chemicals of high concern in our products by 2020,” Dollar Tree’s letter to suppliers read. Almost four years later, the company still refuses to share what progress its suppliers have made toward eliminating these harmful chemicals with the public.
In recent years, major retailers such as Walmart and Target have adopted safer chemical policies and begun phasing out some of the most toxic chemicals in their product lines. That’s why Walmart and Target each earned an “A” grade from the most recent Retailer Report Card, a survey of retailer policies on toxic chemicals published annually. Meanwhile, Dollar Tree earned a D+. So while Dollar Tree’s communication to suppliers is a positive first step, we have no way of knowing how much progress its suppliers have made in removing chemicals of concern, or if they have been replaced with safer substitutes.
Dollar Tree’s mission statement commits the company to “Do the right thing for the right reason.” It goes on to say, “What is best for our customers and what is best for our company and associates are guiding principles in every business decision we make.”
Platitudes about progress aren’t enough. Would Dollar Tree ever expect investors or financial analysts to accept general statements about its sales or profits, with no specific results provided compared to its goals and projections? As a stock owner, I expect the company to set public, measurable goals for sales, profit, and other key measures of business success, and report publicly on progress toward those. As a customer and a parent, I expect the same level of transparency and specificity about product safety.
Dollar Tree must do better by demonstrating measurable progress toward removing harmful chemicals, holding suppliers accountable, and publicly disclosing clear metrics and reporting on specific progress toward them. LDA and the Campaign for Healthier Solutions stand ready to work in partnership with Dollar Tree to reach our common goals of safe and affordable products.