Fashion retailer Gap Inc has just released its sixth Social & Environmental Responsibility Report, highlighting the company’s efforts to help communities at home and abroad, as well as its work to improve its environmental record.

The beneficiaries of the company’s and its employees’ initiatives range from local causes dear to the hearts of the retailer’s staff in the US, to attempts to improve the lots of the communities which supply the workers making the clothes they sell.

It’s a mammoth report, running to nearly 150 pages, and it ranges over a wide range of issues: from training projects for garment workers around the world, to voluntary work in the US and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Covering the fiscal years 2011-12, the report charts the many sustainability projects spread across the company’s brands: Gap itself, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime and Athleta.

But unsurprisingly, given the fall-out following the Rana Plaza building collapse and Tazreen factory fire, Bangladesh features prominently in the report.

Gap is at pains to point out that the company did not have a business relationship with either premises, but it adds that is “committed to supporting systemic and sustainable reform of the country’s rapidly growing garment industry”.

Labelling the need to improve working and safety conditions for workers an “imperative”, the business highlights the fact that, in October last year, it was among the first to launch a Building and Fire Safety Plan to cover the 70 or so facilities making its clothes in the country.

In July, Gap was a founding member of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, commiting the company to inspecting all of its approved factories within a year, using a uniform fire and building safety code.

But – in line with other fashion companies and organisations – the retailer emphasises the need for a holistic approach to the many issues involved, with responsibility shared between retailers, apparel businesses, factory owners, NGOs, labour organisations, the Bangladeshi government and society at large.

Life skills and training
Initiatives aimed at improving the lives and skills of factory workers aren’t merely confined to Bangladesh, however: Gap’s Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement (PACE) programme is to be extended, some six years after it was first established in India.

The project aims to offer life skills and technical training to female garment workers in some 60 factories around the world and, to date, it reckons to have aided more than 20,000 women in seven countries.

The extension of PACE equates to a commitment to help another 10,000 women around the world by 2015, the report notes.

A large chunk of its pages, however, are devoted to causes closer to home, and in particular to the voluntary work undertaken by Gap employees in the US.

Gap calculates that more than 70,000 of its workers carried out about 460,000 hours of voluntary work in 2012, taking the total time spent since 2007 to more than 2.1m hours in community service.

In financial terms, meanwhile, the company’s store employee volunteers awarded grants worth US$817,000 to local community organisations last year.

That means that, since 2006, the Gap Foundation programme has contributed more than $2m to local communities, the company says.

One particular initiative highlighted by the report is This Way Ahead (TWA), described as a community programme involving Gap employees, which supplies career advice and employment training for “under-served” young people in the US.

TWA is currently working in only three US cities – New York, San Francisco and Boston – but the plan is to expand this into another two cities by 2015, targeting a sizeable increase to the approximately 1,000 young people helped to date.

Environmental concerns
Environmental concerns take up rather less space in the report, but nonetheless Gap insists that it is “on the way” to reaching its 2015 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% compared to 2008 levels per square foot of its US operations, on top of an earlier 20% emissions cut in the five-year period from 2003.

Chairman and CEO Glenn Murphy also highlights the company’s Mills Engagement Program, a clean water initiative designed in association with the Natural Resources Defense Council to establish standards to minimise the environmental impact of dyeing and finishing facilities.

“Our commitment to social and environmental responsibility remains a cornerstone of how we conduct and grow our business,” Murphy adds.

“While as a company we will never stop striving for improvement, our legacy of leadership in this work is extremely meaningful to me and to our employees.”