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Lessons On Social Responsibility From GAP’s Child Labor Woes

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, October 30, 2007

The GAP is being crucified around the world because of a discovery that child labor was used to produce clothing for retail clothing giant. This piece from the Telegraph in London, entitled ‘Gap sweatshop children’ saved in India raid, has lots of pictures.

It may seem distant from any concerns of the produce and perishable food industries; however, with the increasing focus on corporate social responsibility we can expect much more rigorous attention to be paid to the way we operate. Especially, we can expect the attention to be focused on the condition of farm labor and, particularly, farm labor in developing countries.

We wrote a piece in Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, entitled Wages And Social Responsibility, that dealt with this exact issue.

By the way, don’t think all this attention to social responsibility will actually help any of these poor children laboring in the factories. As soon as the news broke that the GAP was promising to act, Forbes put the headline as GAP Vows Action After Child Labor Report and executives from the GAP were very clear:

“We appreciate that the media identified this subcontractor, and we acted swiftly in this situation,” Chandler told The Associated Press on Sunday. “Under no circumstances is it acceptable for children to produce or work on garments.”

The company plans to convene all of its suppliers in the India region at a summit in the coming weeks to “forcefully reiterate the prohibition on any child labor,” he said.

Marka Hansen, president of GAP North America, said its prohibition of child labor is non-negotiable.

“While violations of our strict prohibition on child labor in factories that produce product for the company are extremely rare, we have called an urgent meeting with our suppliers in the region to reinforce our policies.”

Note, however, that GAP’s policy is merely one of disassociation from child labor. The practice is banned from the factories, and the GAP will drop a supplier if the practice is found. Beyond keeping children out of its factories, GAP takes no responsibility for children at all.

One supposes there are people who believe that now that these children will be fired, they will go back to school and study hard and grow up to be accountants and ballet dancers.

Notice GAP did not say they would build schools or in any other way help these children. It raises the question of whether social responsibility is to actually do good or just to avoid sullying our hands with unseemly things?

In any case, this is not an issue that will stop with clothing.

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