Blog: Leonie BarrieGap sweats it out

Leonie Barrie | 13 May 2004

While I was in Guatemala last week I visited several factories making clothes for Gap – some of which have been embroiled in labour disputes with the retailer in the past. Today, though, it was Gap itself taking a swipe at its suppliers, admitting to poor, sometimes hazardous, working conditions at many of the 3,000 overseas factories supplying its clothes. “Few factories, if any, are in full compliance all of the time" it said.

Hitting back at critics who say it isn’t doing enough to ensure fair working conditions at factories around the world, Gap packaged the admittance as part of its social responsibility initiatives. And so far its strategy seems to have paid off, with human rights critics and shareholder groups greeting the news positively – even though they have been provided with a lot of fodder.

There’s no doubt that being socially responsible is likely becoming more and more trendy in the corporate world. And it could well be that Gap’s actions prove to be the first of many. After all, the same global supply chain is used by most retailers at some point along the line – and the others are likely to feel obliged to respond too.
Today Gap seems to be riding high over its decision to bare its soul. But it will be well aware that such a stance carries risks: only last year Nike was forced to reach a court settlement after publicly denying that it used sweatshop labour.


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