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The Greatest Apparel Company Villain–Gap

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When we think of terrible labor standards in the 21st century economy, we may very well think of Wal-Mart and for good reason. But the real villain in the international clothing industry is Gap. That company has done more than any other to push back against any meaningful reform, including in the aftermath of the Bangladesh disaster.

Consumer and labor groups have focused more on persuading Gap rather than Walmart to join the Bangladesh factory safety plan. Gap has been the most vocal company in criticizing the plan, expressing concerns that overly litigious American lawyers could seize on the agreement to sue American companies on behalf of aggrieved factory workers in Bangladesh. Gap’s proposed changes would greatly limit any legal liability for any company that violated the plans.

In a statement, Gap said: “We’re pleased that an accord is within reach, and Gap Inc. is ready to sign on today with a modification to a single area — how disputes are resolved in the courts. This proposal is on the table right now with the parties involved. With this single change, this global, historic agreement can move forward with a group of all retailers, not just those based in Europe.”

Under Gap’s proposal, if a retailer is found to have violated the agreement, the only remedy would be public expulsion from the factory safety plan.

“The U.S. is quite litigious,” said Bill Chandler, a Gap spokesman. “We put forward specific proposals that we thought would bring other American retailers into the fold. We thought it would be a step forward and would turn it into a much more global agreement.”

The labor unions and advocacy groups that have negotiated with H&M; Inditex, the Spanish company that owns the Zara chain; and other companies that have signed the plan criticized Gap’s proposal to change the agreement. These groups say Gap’s vigorous push against the version of the plan has helped sway some other American companies not to sign.

“Gap Inc. is ready to sign on today with a modification to a single area — how disputes are resolved,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a group sponsored by 175 colleges and universities. “Gap’s demand is that the agreement be made unenforceable — and therefore meaningless. What Gap wants is the right to renege on its commitments when it wishes.”

This is not the first time Gap has acted to preserve the exploitative nature of the apparel industry. Gap has a long history of using child labor to make its clothing in nations ranging from Jordan to Bangladesh. It has used contractors that dump dyes into Lesotho rivers. It wants absolutely no enforceable standards and is the greatest defender of a system that just killed 900 Bangladeshis.

I think it is high time for an international boycott of Gap until it agrees to enforceable labor standards at its contractors, or at least signs on to the safety plan created by European companies in the wake of the Bangladesh factory collapse.

…..Also, the Bangladesh death toll now stands at 1127.

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  • Sly

    The National Retail Federation is also proposing a U.S.-only accord that’s not legally binding, probably in a “let’s just split the difference” attempt to pressure the Europeans to modify the accord along the lines of what Gap is proposing. As a practical matter – protecting their members from any and all liability – they get what they want either way.

    • Another Halocene Human

      NRF can DIAF. NRA also, too. (Herman Cain NRA, not Wayne LaPierre, NRA. The latter can freeze in a blizzard.)

  • Bruce Vail

    It’s not clear to me from reading the NYT story what Gap’s ‘single condition’ is? Is it that disputes be restricted to Bangladeshi courts?

    • I think it is not allowing lawsuits in the country of corporate origin, but I agree it is not stated with great clarity.

      • stuck working

        The “single condition” is that the agreement not be legally binding at all anywhere. So, you know, just a little matter of gutting it entirely and turning it into a PR move.

  • Bruce Vail

    This from Bloomberg today:

    “More than 1 million people signed a petition encouraging Gap and other companies to commit to the safety accord.

  • stuck working

    I suspect that the reason that these groups are going after the GAP instead of Walmart is not they think the GAP is worse but that they think they have no chance of getting Walmart to do it if they can’t even get the GAP to do it.

  • anthrofred

    Honestly, I’d like to find whoever coined the phrase “overly litigious” and stuff them down a well. Fear of frivilous lawsuits is a terrible alibi for corporate graft.

    • dp

      “Fear of frivolous lawsuits is cover for fear of meritorious lawsuits.”

      FIFY

    • joel hanes

      whoever coined the phrase “overly litigious”

      Some organizations have richly earned that sobriquet.

      See Religioug Technology Corp, the intellectual property tentacle of Scientology, and their in-house law firm Moxon and Kobrin.

      See Prenda, and other copyright and patent trolls.

      See the most recent incarnation of SCO.

      • Karen

        The lawyers for Scientology are really named Moxon and Kobrin? Did L. Ron Hubbard force them to change their names to those of his characters?

  • DrDick

    I am delighted to have a morally superior reason to continue not buying Gap products. On the other hand, if I boycotted everyone in the apparel industry that supports and promotes inhumane working conditions, I would have to go naked. Trust me, but nobody wants that outcome.

    • Bruce Vail
    • 890

      You are correct.

    • sparks

      For everything except suits, shoes, underwear, and socks, I go to thrift stores. The selection isn’t always great, but I’m not directly supporting those makers, either.

      • The problem with such a strategy is that it is totally not scalable. To me, thrift stores aren’t a solution at all.

        • Another Halocene Human

          What are you talking about? Clothes last longer than people want to keep them. Fuck, dude, Americans homes are stuffed with clothes that the occupants no longer wear. Fucking US outlets probably send more than half overseas, ya know? Unsustainable? Ha!

          • So if the entire world starts going to thrift stores, what happens?

          • Cody

            Obviously people can hold onto clothes longer, but if people did then there wouldn’t even be thrift stores?

            Also, I don’t see myself ever buying my underwear at a thrift store.

            And perhaps most importantly, the original clothing has to come from somewhere still.

  • Mean Mister Mustard

    Holy Christ ! Queue the newscycle. Beagles and Fashion Bangles !

    • Murc

      Cue. CUE the news cycle. Not queue. Unless you did mean that the news cycle should get into a line.

      Homophones, man. They’re like… linguistic land mines.

      • Mean Mister Mustard

        Definition of QUEUE

        1
        : a braid of hair usually worn hanging at the back of the head

        I know what you mean, man. They’re semantic bouncing-bettys.

  • dp

    Nova nails it — Gap is completely on board as long as the agreement can’t be enforced.

  • Johnny Sack

    Aren’t old navy and banana republic under the same umbrella? Damn that’s probably over 50% of my wardrobe. I’ll boycott them…but most of what I wear is still their stuff. The shame, the shame.

    • Regular LGM commenter in Guatemala

      Yeah, I was going to ask that same question. I still remember Christmas caroling after the Seattle protests: “Oh The Gap and Old Navy! Banana Republic! O-of all the stores, that are in the mall, these ones just make me sick.” (Tune of “the holly and the ivy”)

      • Regular LGM commenter in Guatemala

        Oops. Yup, still in Guatemala. I guess I’ll go back to my real name … next time.

      • Johnny Sack

        Actually, a friend has turned me on to Uniqlo. They’re like the Japanese Gap, except so much better and pretty reasonably priced. The big drawback is that their only U.S. stores are in New York City and you can’t (last I checked) order their clothes online.

        • nixnutz

          And they also manufacture in Bangladesh so it’s worth keeping an eye on what they do here. They have nice enough stuff, along the lines of the H&M fashionable and disposable approach, but like H&M their sizes are absurdly small.

          I guess their quality is not as laughable as H&M’s, I’d say less durable than the Gap or Old Navy but far more attractive. The problem I think is that while the disposable clothing approach makes sense for consumers who like to be au courant it’s very dependent on extremely cheap labor and may prove impossible to do ethically and sustainably. H&M is on board with this agreement so I guess we’ll see how things work out but I’m skeptical.

  • Sharon

    The Gap also owns Alethea and Piperlime. I also have a lot of Gap/Old Navy/Bananna Republic in my closet. Luckily, there are lots of places that middle aged women like me can shop for t-shirts and jeans.

    • Another Halocene Human

      I thought Banana Republic was something we agreed to leave in the 1980s, with Noriega.

  • Bill

    This is not the first time Gap has acted to preserve the exploitative nature of the apparel industry. Gap has a long history of using child labor to make its clothing in nations ranging from Jordan to Bangladesh. It has used contractors that dump dyes into Lesotho rivers. It wants absolutely no enforceable standards and is the greatest defender of a system that just killed 900 Bangladeshis.

    But, but, their jeans make my ass look fabulous.

    • Another Halocene Human

      I buy all my jeans at Goodwill.

      • Another Halocene Human

        Proven quality, and nobody looks down their nose when you have to make multiple trips in and out of the changing room until you find your fit.

  • Colin Day

    Greatest Apparel Prick?

  • But if I can’t shop at OldNavyGapBananaRepublic, where will I purchase shoddily made clothing that can’t survive a trip through a washer & dryer??

    One of the more disgusting things about the clothing industry is the obscene profit margin. I don’t care if the item is a $10 tie. Neither the material or the labor came anywhere near $10.

  • Another Halocene Human

    I’ve been boycotting GAP since 1997 and Old Navy since it opened it’s old doors. Wake me up when they’re selling something anybody fucking wants to buy. The last time I heard about The Gap it was in a business article about how their business was imploding. There’s still one in the local mall. Given that the mall’s parent company went bankrupt, it’s not as if they’re in a position to push them out for something better. I never see more than a few customers in the store if at all so one wonders how they pay the rent.

    If you want to find a good shame target, there’s always JC Penney, attempting to rebrand itself as the new IKEA/Target. With clothes! And gay people!

  • rea

    What’s got me scratching my head about the Gap’s position is that it strikes me as highly unlikely that an agreement like this would support cause of action in an American court for injury to a worker.

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