Blog: Lesotho scandal needs to be the last

Joe Ayling | 3 August 2009

San Francisco clothing giants Levi Strauss and Gap Inc have been rocked by a supply chain scandal, but how long will PR disasters like this continue to happen?

The negative publicity arising from newspaper findings at a factory site in Lesotho, southern Africa, should have been avoided.

If they cannot be, then perhaps clothing companies should lay off the marketing offensive of selling ethically-sourced clothing.

Low-cost sourcing makes good business sense, and often provides developing communities with a source of income. But leading brands like Gap and Levi's need to tighten up their auditing further, because they can ill-afford this sort of negative publicity, on an already difficult high street.

Gap says: "We have a team of 80 employees around the world who regularly conduct announced and unannounced visits to factories that make our products to root out and address any areas of concern."

But how on earth did they miss this one?

The Sunday Times found evidence of dark blue effluent flowing from a fabric mill into a community water supply. Children were then filmed sifting through waste that reportedly included sewing needles and caustic soda at an unsecured dump scattered with Levi and Gap labels.

While local Government and factory owner Nien Hsing shoulder much of the blame here, it is Levi and Gap making the headlines. Despite this, they continue to work with Nien Hsing, which has now fixed the broken pipe thought to have caused the leak.

Levi's says it has been looking to add fabric mills to its water quality standards for a year, and both companies will wish they'd beaten the Sunday Times to Lesotho.

Unfortunately though, the pipe broke and it was too late to fix it.

By Joe Ayling, news editor.


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