Monday, November 05, 2007

Gap Inc. Acts on Child Labor Charges

Bay Area apparel giant ends relationship with New Delhi, India contractor

SAN FRANCISCO – 11/01/07 – Multinational apparel giant Gap Inc. has severed ties with a major contractor in New Delhi, India after learning that the company employed children in its manufacturing operations.

“We strictly prohibit the use of child labor. This is non-negotiable for us…and we are deeply concerned and upset by this allegation,” said Gap North America President Marka Hansen after making the announcement of the Bay Area-headquartered company’s decision.

The statement followed revelations in a British newspaper, The Observer, that quoted child workers’ accounts of being sold by their parents, forced to work 16-hour days without pay and being beaten.

Children as young as 10 years old were held “in conditions of abject slavery,” the paper reported in a recent edition.

Hansen said the Gap Inc. “is committed to fighting for workers’ rights in cooperation with governments, nongovernmental organizations, trade unions and other interested parties.”

She added that “lapses exposed several years ago caused Gap to make serious efforts to monitor and prevent sweatshop and child labor in countries where its products are made.”

Social responsibility “is now part of [the company’s] mission,” she said.

“As soon as we were alerted to this situation, we stopped the work order and prevented the product from being sold in stores,” Hansen said, citing Gap’s “strict prohibition on child labor.”

Gap called an emergency meeting with regional suppliers to reinforce the policy.

Gap spokesman Bill Chandler told the Associated Press, “Under no circumstances is it acceptable for children to produce or work on garments,” saying the company is grateful “that the media identified this subcontractor.”

Indian lawyer and workers advocate Bhuwan Ribhu said that while he appreciated Gap’s actions, “Instead of canceling the order the [company] should make sure that wherever their production is going on, the manufacturing units shouldn’t employ children and also [should] regularly monitor their contractors and subcontractors.”

Sudhanshu Joshi, executive director of the Washington, DC-based International Center on Child Labor and Education (ICCLE), was “not surprised” by Gap's decision.

“There have been complaints for a long time about Gap,” said Joshi, who has worked on the issue for United Nations agencies, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the World Bank, added that child labor is “endemic” in India.

“Gap has to prove that it is not going to thrive in business on the strength of the very cheap child labor that is available,” he said, recommending “stronger involvement of businesses with governments and civil society to monitor industries prone to using child labor.”

The US Department of Labor’s 2006 International Child Labor Report stated that approximately 4.1% of boys and 4.0% of girls ages 5 to 14 are forced to work in India with most working in agriculture, but children are employed in many other, often hazardous, industries.

Living conditions for the children are routinely sub-standard and abuse is common, the report said.

According to the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), India’s most active anti-child labor organization, children may be purchased for labor in impoverished villages of India for as little as $12.50.

A day after the The Observer story ran, the BBA, in cooperation with law enforcement, rescued 14 bonded child laborers in New Delhi.

The children, the youngest only 8 years old, embroidered fabric in the same Shahpur Jaat neighborhood and under conditions similar to those the children making clothes for Gap have been subjected to.

BBA co-founder Kailash Satyarthi said, “We are glad that after so many years the situation has changed a little as the international brands like Gap have admitted that there is child labor involved in their supply chain, and we also appreciate their immediate response to the situation.”

However, stronger steps are needed, he said, adding that he advocates the creation of a certifying body such as Rugmark, which prevents child labor through strict guidelines and regular monitoring.

India has progressed in curbing child labor, Joshi said, but it still has a long way to go.

“The government of India has been very, very bold and proactive,” he said, but the country should sign the International Labour Organization’s 1999 Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, which has been ratified by 165 nations.

“It would have huge value,” and send “a strong message.”

The 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report, compiled by the US State Department, found that Indian law enforcement insufficient for the scope of the problem, and is frequently hampered by corruption.

In addition, numerous “factories” employing child laborers are small units operating from small homes in crowded residential areas, the report said.

The US Department of Labor currently partners with the government of India on the INDUS Project, which has the goal of liberating 80,000 Indian children from hazardous work by September 2008.

To the ICCLE’s Joshi, education is critical, and he said good education can be given to all “in the new resurgent India, which has the means to do that, and show to the world it can do it.”



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