How the company is ignoring its past connections with child labor
Gap and Ellen DeGeneres are attempting to boost young childrens’ confidence through the apparel line “GapKids x ED,” which encourages children to explore their talents and to take pride in their individuality. However, it has become increasingly interesting that a company known to use child labor, after ABC News journalist, Dan McDougall, uncovered Gap’s illegal garment factories in Delhi, India in 2007, is rebranding itself through this tactic.
The company has had to do serious revisions to its policies and international standards. However, highlighting six extraordinary girls in its new apparel line seems unjust after the investigation into the horrors of the Gap’s child labor market in India.
According to the ABC News article, “Gap Admits Possible Child Labor Problem,” from 2007 “children were working without pay as virtual slaves in filthy conditions, with a single, backed-up latrine and bowls of rice covered with flies. They slept on the roof.”
As a result of this, Gap took immediate action by upgrading their work codes and policies to international standards, yet their inability to identify illegal garment factories still raises questions about whether or not the company is devoid of child labor.
An article in The Guardian titled, “Child sweatshop shame threatens Gap’s ethical image,” wrote in response to the ABC News investigation in 2007, “It is an impossible task to track down all these terrible sweatshops, particularly in the garment industry when you need little more than a basement or an attic crammed with small children to make a healthy profit.”
Although Gap and DeGeneres want to encourage young girls to explore their various talents in all disciplines through their GapKids x ED apparel line, it is at the possible expense of other girls in third world countries. This contradictory philosophy further illustrates first world privilege and isolates the girls bought into slavery by subcontractors working under Gap.
Gap denies any former ties with illegal subcontractors. The company’s senior vice president for social responsibility, Dan Henkle, blamed various vendors for not telling Gap they used child labor, according to the ABC News story from 2007.
Although this supposed misunderstanding seems harmless, one should consider the negative impacts of child labor and the high demand for cheap labor. Human traffickers prey on lower class children. They emotionally, physically and mentally strain children in order to produce more garments.
Sheotaj Singh, the general secretary of the Bonded Labor Liberation Front, which is working to end bonded labor, said: “These are children doing work under the very noses of the government agencies in Delhi. … The government pick up them and send them to the refinery or jails, and nothing more. But after that, they have to release them after some time, and again, they go through the same system.”
The children forced into this illegal business become virtual slaves. “They will be faced with very cramped conditions, maybe 10 to 15 children to a room, work for long hours, and doing very detailed work, and often will be hit, will be yelled at,” said Shireen Vakil Miller, a member of Save the Children, in an interview with ABC News. “….their food may be withdrawn if they haven’t done something well enough … Their eyes suffer. Their hands suffer.”
These sources not only point out the horrors of India’s child labor system, but also point out the injustices lower class Indian children face daily due to companies’ mistakes or misinterpretations of vendor’ policies.
Therefore, when the Gap states “our brand’s heritage, … has long stood for supporting youth in a way that unleashes potential” at a press conference for GapKids x ED, it can be argued that Gap is using the feminist movement to gain profits and to rebrand the company, after the ABC News article controversy.
Because if Gap truly cared about young girls’ potential or any child’s potential, one would expect Gap to do thorough investigations on the subcontractors it hires. This rebranding technique reiterates to lower class children working in illegal sweatshops that they are not good enough to develop their own talents, education and aspirations.
Courtney Yule is a freshman journalism major. You can email her at [email protected].