Apparel giant Gap Inc has published its 2004 social responsibility report, in which it underscores its ongoing commitment to improving conditions in both its own sourcing base and throughout the global garment industry.

The report, the company's second, details progress made over the last year across four main areas.

Highlights include more effective techniques and strategies for monitoring factories and improving conditions, steps to embed labour standards across the company's purchasing practices, and ongoing commitment to communication and transparency.

Gap's chief executive officer and president Paul Pressler said: "We recognise our responsibility to be a catalyst for sustainable change, and believe an integrated approach that includes collaborative multi-stakeholder engagement can help drive lasting progress across our industry.

"Although we still face many challenges, we are encouraged by the progress we've made over the past year across several areas."

The report was prepared with input and guidance from the Public Reporting Working Group - a group of advisors from the socially responsible investment community. They joined forces in late 2002 to help Gap Inc increase transparency around its operations and ethical sourcing work.

The report places particular emphasis on the continued evolution of the company's extensive factory monitoring programme, which employs more than 90 people around the world.

Most of these are Vendor Compliance Officers (VCOs) who visit factories, conduct inspections, document violations and work with garment manufacturers to improve conditions on a daily basis.

In 2004, Gap Inc monitored 99.9 per cent of garment factories approved for production for all of fiscal year 2004 - up from 94 per cent in 2003.

Gap Inc also invited Social Accountability International (SAI) and Verité to conduct thorough assessments of its monitoring program and inspection protocols. Insights from the analyses are helping the company drive continued improvement in its monitoring techniques and strategies.