Gap Kids has, once again, been caught using child slave labor in order to make cheap clothes to sell to Americans at low, low prices. Child workers at a subcontractor for Gap Kids reported to investigators that they were forced to work extra hours without being paid, and were commonly subjected to threats and beatings from their supervisors. They worked in true sweatshops, with filthy, unsafe conditions.
Gap Inc., the parent company of Gap Kids, says it’s awfully sorry, and that gosh, it just doesn’t know how this factory could have slipped through its system of screening overseas sources of labor to meet Gap’s high, high ethical standards.
That’s nonsense. Gap Inc. outsources jobs overseas for a very simple reason: So that they can pay low wages and avoid American labor regulations. Gap Inc. starts out its hunt for overseas labor looking to exploit vulnerable workers. It cannot be shocked, then, when the vulnerable people it hires as workers are exploited.
Gap Inc. went looking to build relationships with subcontractors in India with the knowledge that many of the factories there exploit children and engage in monstrous abuses against their workers. Professor Sheotaj Singh of Dayanand Shilpa Vidyalaya, an organization that rehabilitates abused child workers in India, explains, “It is obvious what the attraction is here for Western conglomerates. The key thing India has to offer the global economy is some of the world’s cheapest labour, and this is the saddest thing of all the horrors that arise from Delhi’s 15,000 inadequately regulated garment factories, some of which are among the worst sweatshops ever to taint the human conscience.”
Bhuwan Ribhu of Global March Against Child Labour agrees, stating of companies like Gap Kids, “They know what outsourcing to India means. The cheapness and accessibility of these garments has created a life of servitude, a living nightmare, for hundreds of thousands of children who are forced to sew them.”
Some say that by giving contracts to sweatshops in India, Gap Inc. is helping the Indian economy, raising the standards of living for Indian workers. However, as the Hindustan Times pointed out just last week, when companies like Gap Inc. come in and hire child laborers under appalling conditions, they are actually harming the economy of India by stunting the development of a generation of children who are malnourished in the sweatshops, and can only be of any lasting using to the economy of India if they go to school, not to work. When 50 percent of children in India work seven days a week, they have no time to develop into people who will be able to contribute meaningfully to the economy of India as adults.
Gap, Inc. is making promises again, just as it has for the last three years. They’re promising again that they will not use abusive sweatshop garment labor in India, but will only get their super-low priced clothes from non-abusive sweatshop garment labor in India.
Think about it for a second, and you’ll realize how empty these promises really are. If Gap Inc.’s promise to outsource jobs to India were not honored the last time, why should we believe their new promises?
Gap Inc. knows what labor is really like in India. They know that if they continue to outsource labor to India, it’s likely that some, if not most, of their clothes will be made by abused children working for little or no money. Whatever ethical screening guidelines they set up, Gap Inc. will continue to run the substantial risk that the subcontractors they use in India will ignore the guidelines.
It’s a wink and a nod. Gap Inc. pretends to have ethical standards, and its subcontractors in India pretend to meet those standards. The ethical weight does not just rest on the shoulders of the corporate executives at Gap Inc. who decide to outsource labor instead of making its clothes here in the USA, however. Ethical responsibility also rests with you.
If, knowing what you now know about the abuse of child labor in Indian factories used by Gap Inc., you continue to buy clothes from Gap Kids, or any of the other stores owned by Gap Inc. (Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, Piperlime), then you are ethically responsible for what happens to the children enslaved in Indian sweatshops.
Is saving a few dollars on your clothes really worth that to you?