Thursday, May 13, 2004

Gap Shocked That Overseas Workers Making Their Clothes are Mistreated

In what the Associated Press calls "In an unusual display of corporate candor," clothing retailer Gap Inc. has announced that it has found that many of its overseas workers are mistreated and vowed to crack down on its suppliers. Gap is the largest U.S. clothing chain.
As the company strives to hold its overseas suppliers more accountable, Gap is uncovering thousands of violations at 3,009 factories scattered across roughly 50 countries. "Few factories, if any, are in full compliance all of the time," the report said.

Workplace activists who long have chided Gap for making its clothes at "sweatshops" praised the merchant for shedding light on abuses that have been haunting the clothing industry for years.

Gap's commitment is particularly significant because the factories supplying the merchant may employ 300,000 workers combined, estimated Bruce Raynor, president of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.

Gap's report provides a geographic breakdown on the workplace violations uncovered by more than 90 inspectors. The most frequent problems cropped up in China. Troubles included psychological or verbal abuse -- something that Gap said occurred at 10 percent to 25 percent of the China factories that supply the company.

Unacceptably low pay is an especially widespread problem, according to the Gap's statistics. U.S. labor and political leaders argue the country is losing thousands of jobs as cost-conscious companies export work to take advantage of cheaper wages.
Also of interest are implications for Wal-Mart
Discussions about the report put the spotlight on No. 1 retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc., commonly cited as leading the global cost-cutting trends blamed for many labor abuses.

"It does sound like more information is being released by Gap than we have released," Wal-Mart spokesman Bill Wertz said. "The question about what we should report, and how much we should report, is under review here at Wal-Mart."
Full report here.