. . . Friday May 14, 2004

Going to the Source

Regular violations including psychological coercion, unsafe facilities, and physical punishment. Am I talking about an Iraqi prison? No. I’m talking about the conditions in overseas factories that manufacture products for the Gap.

Anyone who lives in the Bay Area is all too familiar with the seemingly permanent protestors who picket the Gap with their placards complaining of sweatshops and unfair working conditions. After several years, Gap executives decided to look into the problem and the company released a report on their own labor failings.

And in this act of self-flagellation, they didn’t pull any punches. Few if any of their factories are in compliance with basic labor regulations or what the Gap had previously defended as ethical sourcing. And you know the old argument that the people in these countries could never have dreamed of jobs this good? Well, it turns out that in many cases, the Gap factories were paying workers at a level below the local minimum wage. (You can read the Gap’s full report here).

This report is absolutely critical for a variety of reasons. First, the Gap’s willingness to do the study and then release it to the public will put incredible pressure on other major U.S. companies to do the same. It will also help to inform a public that often would rather not know the details about a pair of pants as long as they fit well and don’t wrinkle easily.

But there’s a bigger picture here. It’s not Republican and it’s not Democrat. And it’s certainly not just altruism. Let’s call it Self-Preservationist Pragmatism. Designing a social structure in which other countries merely provide the workers to do the jobs we don’t want under conditions that we wouldn’t accept is not only bad form, it’s dangerous. Exporting jobs, under some circumstances, is fine. Exporting frustration, rage and rebellion is wrong. Not just morally wrong. Wrong in the sense that it could come back to haunt us.

Upon releasing the report, the Gap’s recently appointed CEO explained: “We feel strongly that commerce and social responsibility don’t have to be at odds.”

The same could be said about America and the world.

Concentration is important!