Thursday, November 8, 2007

Gap: Above & Beyond; fixing an error

Here is my take on the following child-labor story: (1) The Gap dropped the ball in allowing this situation to happen in the first place, after touting its moral standards as it has. There's egg on their face.

(2) The Gap is now doing the right thing. Redemption is possible in business.

(3) Over-all, The Gap is to be highly commended for setting a higher standard than required by law, or even by the dictates of the market. Who would you rather buy from, Gap with child-free labor, or another retailer whose clothing is in question? Who would you rather work for?

(4) A new standard has been set. Other retailers who don't follow Gap's example now will look morally suspect.

Doing the right thing pays. There's no getting around that.

The following is from our friends at the Institute for Global Ethics (

The Gap Retail Chain Launches Movement to Combat Child Labor

Action follows series of reports claiming the giant clothing retailer, which has positioned itself as one of the most ethical U.S. companies, subcontracted to a New Delhi sweatshop that employed workers as young as 10

SAN FRANCISCO Clothing retailer Gap, Inc., is drawing up a pledge to label its products "sweatshop free," a move that is believed to be one of the largest commitments by a major retailer to end child labor, reports the U.K. Guardian.

The initiative follows newspaper reports claiming that one of the firm's largest Indian suppliers subcontracted to employers using children as young as 10 to make garments.

According to the Guardian, Gap's plan includes labeling its garments so that consumers can directly track online where the clothing was made.

Gap has recalled clothing traced back to a supplier whose subcontractor allegedly employed children in an embroidery unit in New Delhi, according to a report from the Times of India.
The San Francisco-based retailer says it will meet with 200 suppliers in India to reinforce a zero-tolerance policy on child labor, reports San Francisco television station KPIX.

According to an analysis from the Economist, since the beginning of the decade Gap has positioned itself as one of the world's most ethical retailers, enforcing strict codes on working conditions and severing ties with factories that do not meet its standards.

The Economist piece notes that "policing contractors and subcontractors in faraway places is not easy. A big proportion of the company's clothes are made in India, which has become the world's capital of child labor. Of the estimated 218 million laborers worldwide who are younger than 14, some 40-50 million are in India, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency, and they account for around 20 percent of the country's GDP. Gap says it employs 90 people across the globe to supervise compliance with its rules."

Governments often are reluctant to draw attention to the problem, adds the Economist. India's commerce minister last week suggested that stories about child labor were being used to justify protectionism.

Still, critics interviewed for the analysis maintain that if firms are able to effectively monitor the quality of their products, they should be able to police their production.