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US: Gap Campaigns Against Child Labor

by Amelia GentlemanNew York Times
November 15th, 2007

Gap has begun an effort to rebuild its reputation after a child-labor scandal in India, announcing a package of measures on Thursday intended to tighten its commitment to eradicating the exploitation of children in the manufacture of its goods.

Embarrassed by reports that some GapKids clothes had been hand-embroidered by child workers in Delhi, Gap said it would refine its procedures to ensure that items made in textile workshops in India were not being produced by children.

It also announced a grant of $200,000 to improve working conditions and said it would hold an international conference next year to come up with solutions for issues related to child labor.

The statement from the company came after an internal investigation by a British newspaper, The Observer, which printed pictures last month of children making clothes for Gap in a sweatshop. The newspaper reported that children, some as young as 10, were working for up to 16 hours a day to embroider clothes, some of them bearing Gap labels and bar codes.

The company's president, Marka Hansen, said in an open letter to customers that the children who were found to be embroidering decorations on blouses for toddlers for Gap would be paid until they were of working age and then offered employment.

"They'll also get the back wages and education they deserve," she wrote in the letter, which was posted on the company's Web site.

Bhuwan Ribhu, of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, a Delhi-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to outlawing child labor, welcomed the announcement. "They say they believe child labor should be eliminated," he said. "This is a good start."

His organization is caring for 14 children, all thought to be younger than 14, who were removed by the police at the end of October from the shop where the Gap clothes were made. They are staying at a children's home run by the organization until their case is investigated and a court issues a release certificate allowing them to return to their villages in West Bengal.

The statement from Gap said that the vendor that got the Gap order for the children's clothes had employed a rural community center to do the embroidery work but that this entity had subcontracted the work to a Delhi workshop where children were employed. While auditing in factories is relatively straightforward, checking conditions in the informal workshops where hand embroidery is done is harder.

The company said it had suspended 50 percent of orders placed with the vendor for the next six months and placed it on probation, demanding that it make "significant improvements to its oversight of its subcontractors who handle this type of work."

Shireen Miller, head of policy at Save the Children, said Gap had a responsibility to check working practices along the entire supply chain, even the fields where cotton is produced for the clothes.

Official figures suggest that about 12 million children are working in India, but some opponents of child labor estimate the actual figure could be closer to 60 million.

The Child Labor Prohibition and Regulation Act in India prohibits the employment of children younger than 14 in hazardous jobs, which includes work in the embroidery industry.




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