Gap Steps Up To Protect Workers

May 17, 2004
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Last week’s release of a 40-page report by Gap Inc. on the working conditions in factories that produce clothes and accessories for sale in the retailer’s Gap, Old Navy and Banana
Republic chains has receive public approval from an unlikely source — workers’ rights advocacy groups and organized labor.

Bob Jeffcott, policy analyst for the Maquila Solidarity Network, a workers’ rights group in Toronto, told the Associated Press, “We think this goes far beyond the public
relations fluff that other companies put out a lot of the time. By making some very candid admissions, they are taking an important first step toward cleaning up the problems.”

Bruce Raynor, president of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees told the AP, “We have had our differences with Gap in the past and probably will
again, but this is something that deserves to be applauded.”

Gap’s chief executive, Paul Pressler told shareholders last week, “We feel strongly that commerce and social responsibility don’t have to be at odds.”

By it’s own admission, the Gap (and by inference the rest of the apparel industry) have a lot of work to do before commerce and workers’ rights go hand-in-hand.

According to the report, verbal and psychological abuse of workers is the most common offense at factories that supply the retailer from around the globe.

Many workers also were paid below minimum wage standards. Up to half the factories in Mexico, Central America and Caribbean nations paid their workers below the minimum wage
last year. Up to 25 percent of factories in Asia, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa and South America were guilty of the same practice.

Moderator’s Comment: What are your thoughts on the Gap’s social responsibility report and its likely impact on the
company’s business? Do you think Gap’s action will lead to any meaningful change in how other American distributors deal with manufacturers overseas?

Firstly, like Paul Pressler, we’ve always believed that making a buck didn’t need to mean taking it out of the hide or pride of workers. Here’s hoping the
Gap proves us right.

Bob Jeffcott said he hoped the Gap’s actions would cause Wal-Mart, in particular, to look more closely at how workers in foreign plants are being treated.

Nearly 30 percent of the plants in China supplying Gap with goods received the company’s two lowest grades for how they treated workers.

Wal-Mart imports more goods from China than all but a few nations worldwide.

A Wal-Mart spokesperson, Bill Wertz, said the retailer would review the Gap’s report.
George Anderson – Moderator

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