News that bums me out

Over the years, I’ve occasionally shopped at the Gap and its cousin, Old Navy. I stopped visiting those stores when I heard about how their “Made in the U.S.A.”-labeled clothing was actually made in the Northern Marianas Islands, a U.S. commonwealth where U.S. labor laws do not apply and the workers toil in sweatshop conditions. There was an attempt in 2000—spearheaded by prominent conservative Frank Murkowski, even, who was appalled by what he saw there—in Congress to reform this, but it was stopped by good ol’ (ahem) Tom DeLay. (It looks like some improvements are underway in the Northern Marianas Islands, but it’s still a rotten place to work. Check out the links here if you want to learn more.)

But then I heard that the Gap had changed its practices, so I put the Gap and Old Navy back on my shopping radar. It’s hard to pass up some of their deals, particularly on maternity wear (when I was pregnant, it was nigh impossible to find decent-looking, non-polyester maternity clothes that was affordable–who spends $120 on a pair of pants that can be worn for only four or five months, anyway?) and cheap baby/toddler socks (which get lost in various nooks and crannies in the house).

And then this news hit the airwaves earlier this week. Yes, that’s right: until a few days ago, the Gap was using child labor in India to make Gap Kids clothes. (Oh, the irony.) And they aren’t just ordinary kids–they are slaves, sold to the factory by their families.

Yes, the Gap higher-ups say they didn’t know this was going on. And yes, they’ve severed ties with the factory. But give me a break: last year, the Gap fired twenty-three factories last year for labor violations. I’m not sure if the company is doing a lot of looking-the-other-way-until-it-gets-caught or if the company is simply run by incompetent people. Either way, you can bet I’m never shopping there again.

7 Responses to “News that bums me out”

  1. Imperatrixon 02 Nov 2007 at 9:37 am

    Just the other day I read that lots of pharmaceutical ingredients are being bought in *China* of all places. Sheesh!

    We’ve really had to become way more stringent in our “buy local” pledge.

    Oh, and the Consort took a class to Nicaragua earlier in the summer, and they visited a garment factory. Don’t buy “Made in Nicaragua” stuff, either. It was pretty bad, he said (and that was the factory the powers-that-be thought would be *good* for a social justice group to visit!)

  2. Bethon 02 Nov 2007 at 12:47 pm

    Thank you for bringing these practices to my attention. To clarify, as far as you know, Old Navy has cleaned up their act?

  3. Katie Jon 02 Nov 2007 at 1:56 pm

    Wow, thanks for sharing this news. Yikes. I wonder about the other children’s stores. Maybe I need to get into sewing.

  4. Ginaon 02 Nov 2007 at 3:21 pm

    You know someone mentioned on a message board that I post to frequently that we “Should all make a better effort to by USA made goods!” And I tend to agree. But DAMN, it’s HARD!

    One other person commented: “Yes, if you are willing to sit naked on the bare floor in an empty room for the rest of your life, then we can all buy USA made goods only.” Funny. But also very (sadly) true.

  5. Marshaon 03 Nov 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Yeah, it’s hard to avoid all evils in everything we consume, I’m afraid. Unless I start raising sheep or growing organic cotton, linen, or hemp, and then spinning or weaving, then knitting or sewing everything myself, then I’m contributing at least to some degree to the some manufacturing or distribution process that hurts people or the planet or both.

    Beth: Old Navy is part of the Gap corportation. So yeah, they’re evil, too.

  6. Frankon 04 Nov 2007 at 8:38 pm

    Thanks for enlightening me on this topic. I had know idea that the Northern Mariana’s were being used to exploit a loophole in the system. I’ll look at “Made in the USA” with a lot of skepticism now.

    I really wish we had a widely used independent rating system for products based on social justice and environmental impact. The Fair Trade label seems to not be getting much beyond coffee, tea and chocolate. And then there is always the danger that if such a system were used that the big boxes of the country would lobby for more lenient standards like they did with organic.

  7. jdon 05 Nov 2007 at 4:23 am

    Thanks for the news, I’ll make sure to pass it along to my friends who are also of the Gap generation. It’s SO hard these days to be a conscientious shopper. Today’s Sunday (LA) Times featured an article about young girls (11 and 13) who have tens of pairs of designer jeans, and whose birthday parties feature massages and facials. What’s the world coming to?!