In 2007 a media storm grew around the discovery that a Gap manufacturer had a sub-contractor who employed child labour within awful conditions in India. Gap had been unaware of the subcontractor and quickly acted to end the arrangement, described by one Gap executive as ‘a hellhole’. Did Gap learn anything from this experience? Have practices changed to prevent this happening again? I took a look through the Social Responsibility information on their website to find out. By the way, Gap Inc. includes Old Navy, Banana Republic, Piperlime and Athleta.
There is extensive information on their website that you could spend hours going through. Here are the pages I focused on:
Supply Chain Evolution: In the 1990’s Gap Inc. began a Code of Vendor Conduct which focused on factory conditions and how to improve them. Their goals in 2010 have expanded to farms and mills which supply those factories. There is an interesting table of factors which contribute to poor factory working conditions and the relevant influence of various stakeholders. It is good to see that the greatest influence has been assigned to the ‘Brand or Retailer’. There is also a chart of current and completed supply chain goals.
Helping Factories Move Forward: The Gap employs Vendor Compliance Officers who review manufacturers and their sub-contractors for approval and then monitor facilities with scheduled and random visits to ensure compliance with the vendor’s conduct code.
Our Program in Action: This page provides links to specific programs such as Uzbek cotton where in ‘Uzbekistan, we’re collaborating with human rights groups and other brands to address the use of child labor to harvest cotton.’ Here you can also find a long but interesting article by Dorianne Beyer, Esq. an ‘international labor standards expert, she has consulted to governments and corporations on a wide range of labor policies, with a particular focus on child labor. Beyer is a founding member of the Advisory Board of Social Accountability International.’
Beyer describes Gap in positive terms, explaining that their efforts to affect child labour had begun several years before the incident in India. From her account and this July 2009 news release, it seems Gap moved swiftly to correct a bad situation and to take steps in preventing new ones from happening. The sub-contractor is banned from any future Gap work, the original manufacturer was placed on probation, and an awareness program has educated Indian villages about their rights. Funding was provided by Gap to support an advocate group in creating a third-party monitoring system.
Beyer states that ‘A number of Gap’s 2008 actions are aimed at broad economic development, recognizing that child labor arises from the lack of a viable economic foundation. Seen through that lens, it becomes clear that effective remediation must address the benefit of all community members — children/students and adults/parents/workers. This is the 21st Century paradigm: Parents who can feed and house their families are the strongest barrier against child trafficking and child labor.
The objective then becomes transforming known areas of child labor from chronic poverty zones to “economic empowerment zones” that facilitate sustainable employment for adults.’
Clearly this is a huge, multi-faceted issue. And there are many steps needed to fix the variables but it would appear that Gap Inc. is on the right track.