Gap coming clean

I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t read it in The Economist

Gap, a San Francisco-based retailer and the largest American clothing seller, surprised many by issuing a detailed “social responsibility report” in May. Thought to be the first of its kind, the report described labour violations in its 3,000 supplier factories. Offences include forced labour, child labour, sub-minimum wage payment, physical punishment and coercion. After issuing the report, Gap promised to improve working conditions at its factories and to stop using suppliers with controversial working conditions. In 2003, the firm stopped doing business with 136 of the worst factories.

Research on the report began two years ago, under pressure from “socially responsible” investor groups; labour groups had accused Gap of abuses in the past. Many hope the report will influence other firms to follow suit. Some note a pressing deadline: in 2005, the textile quotas between World Trade Organisation members will expire, perhaps leading to a rise in labour abuses in China and elsewhere.

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