Trina Tocco, Campaigns Coordinator, International Labor Rights Forum
Its been one tough day for the GAP, Inc. as they have had to defend why they wouldn't have known that child labor was being used to produce a line of girls blouses to be sold over the holidays. I'm sure its been an even worse day for the workers at the factory that were producing for GAP because I'm sure the factory just lost all of its orders which means more working class people are out of a job. The story was first reported in the Observer yesterday.
Some footage of the factory can be seen in this ABC news coverage.
I am shocked at just how often child labor and other unacceptable labor violations are found. Even more alarming is the lack of response from companies most of the time. Or the concern that a company will just take their orders to another bad factory. Companies have learned that the best response is to announce yet another initiative that will give scholarships to factory workers and train management on safety laws. What I don't see is a recognition from companies that they must act not in a superficial save face kind of way but in a way that truly changes how the garment industry functions.
You see, the global apparel industry has been broken for quite some time. Companies can gallivant around the world searching for the day's lowest prices and consumers flock to the sale rack. Yet the questions and concern often only come when a company is outed because of really really terrible labor violations. More about this is in a recent press statement by ILRF and Global Exchange.
No longer is it a news story when women are sexually harassed in a factory. No longer is it a news story where workers are fired for trying to form a union. At ILRF we are contacted by our partners all the time and yet are at a loss for what's next. Companies have been able to hide behind voluntary initiatives and fantastic PR machines that so many believe. It's a constant struggle for the media and consumers to realize just how prevalent sweatshops are still today.
Today as I sit here doing interviews with reporters wanting to cover this sensationalized story I wonder if anyone will remember this next week. I was just on ABC News and they asked me, "where does the buck stop?" I responded that its the companies that have the where-with-all to change things yet I also wonder if in part it's the US consumer. The consumer that is always searching for the lowest price -- even I find myself shopping at Target and not questing why I can buy a blouse for $5. This is something that we all must struggle with and I hope that those reading this blog will take pause to think about how consumers play a role in addition to companies.