What the Gap child labour story really means

Gap has been the target of anti-sweatshop campaigners for about a decade now, so there’s a sense in which today’s Observer story, which finds ‘slave’ child labour in subcontractors producing for Gap, is merely retracing a familiar pattern. Indeed, it’s not the first story of poor working conditions in India this year, and it’s one of a string of recent exposés.

What does make it interesting is that in recent years Gap has been steadily building a reputation as one of the most progressive companies when it comes to labour rights, as the Observer notes. This comes despite the apparently irreparable damage done by bad press in the late 1990s, which still sees many good-natured but ill-informed souls boycotting Gap. (I am wearing Gap trousers as I write this, more because they fit me well than for any ethical reason…)

Gap’s groundbreaking ‘warts and all’ social responsibility reporting has won it plaudits where its competitors continue to deny the full scale of the problems in their supply chains; its response to our own Let’s Clean up Fashion investigation was one of the better ones we received; it has some progressive collaborative work with the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation and with Women Working Worldwide.

So what does this teach us?

First, it demonstrates once again that no company is doing enough to address the deep-rooted exploitation on which it relies to produce fashion at high-street prices.

Second, because poor working conditions exist in all companies’ supply chains, it is not how often a company is linked to them in the press that tells us whether it is ‘ethical’, but how ambitiously it is working to address them.

Third, it shows that, while consumer pressure has done an awful lot to push certain retailers towards a more progressive outlook, there is much for us all still to do.

There is no black and white list of bad and good companies, only shades of (pretty dark) grey.

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2 Responses to “What the Gap child labour story really means”

  1. sadashivan Says:

    The best practice for GAP, Wal*Mart, Ikea or other textile importers would be to establish own production units with dyeing, stitching machines, finishing and packing in rural village. Over 70% of tailors and garment workers migrate to urban cities to work for sub-contractors of garment or home furnishing exporters. Majority of them are either illiterate or semi-literate so don’t know what child labor ( http://www.sadashivan.com ) issue is? For them the issue is survival in expensive urban cities raising money for future life in their own village. Most important factor is that job is unstable so can not settle down at one place; move from one unit to another to get better wage as they are on wage per piece produced and wage decided by demand and supply. Under such circumstances, giving education in schools to children is not easy. For them education to their children is learning survival skill that children learn through child labor ( http://www.sadashivan.com ). For them child not only learns practical skill rather also earns for home. They find their children future more secured than the unemployed graduate in developing world. So they seek help of their children to contribute towards home. Nearly 80% of garment and home furnishing exporters get production done through sub-contractors (fabricators). For exporters having own unit in urban cities is presently not viable due to lack of sufficient finance or increased capacity to meet order quantity, labor issues and expensive affair. Most exporters of urban cities outsource their production from small unorganized stitching and embroidery, button-hole (kaj) units located in either unauthorized or poor residential areas of the cities. For illiterate or semi-literate sub-contractors such places are convenient and cheaper to operate. Such areas are beneficial to avoid government attention, escape labor laws and other benefits too to cut cost of production. A packed garment or home furnishing piece in the rack of a store of an importing country goes from many hands and stages from raw cotton, polyester or other fiber to finished and packing stage. If Garment export units are located in rural villages from where the workers migrate, would be of more help to them towards earning and avoiding children from child labor. Rather would help generating jobs in more areas of manufacturing accessories like; button, laces, threads, machine accessories, hand embroidery and etc;. Child labor ( http://www.sadashivan.com ) elimination depends on improving living standard of the parents. Avoiding contractors or subcontractors is minimizing extra cost would fetch more benefits to direct buyers and the garment workers. Finally, a unit with all manufacturing facility in rural village from weaving to packed shipment would fetch minimum 25% cost reduction. http://www.sadashivan.com/crisisofunemploymentinhandloomandcottagesectors/index.html

  2. erin Says:

    GAP knew what they were doing, most of these fashion companies know, they say to x company, i will give you 60 cents per t shirt, including labor costs tax whatever, and the factories of course hire children and do whatever they have to to meet those costs. all the fashion companies do it, it’s a nice way of saying, oh no we didn’t know what the factory was doing, it’s not like it’s our factory, so they are the bad guys, point the finger at them. Gap will continue to exploit cheap labor/child labor and it’s no use trying to outline ways Gap could have been responsible, because “poor Gap” didn’t know what was going on in “bad india”


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