Gap seeking to up comms on social efforts with report

SAN FRANCISCO: The Gap's decision to release a major report on factory conditions around the world signals the company's intention to increase communications about social-responsibility issues and its efforts in that area, said Jordan Benjamin, a Gap media-relations specialist.

SAN FRANCISCO: The Gap's decision to release a major report on factory conditions around the world signals the company's intention to increase communications about social-responsibility issues and its efforts in that area, said Jordan Benjamin, a Gap media-relations specialist.

The Gap gave advance looks at the social-responsibility report to The Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Financial Times before its release on Wednesday, Benjamin said. "Our board of directors and management team realize we haven't been telling the public enough about our social-responsibility efforts," Benjamin said.

For the past year, The Gap has increased discussion of social responsibility on its website, as well, she noted.

The report found that 90% of factories worldwide trying to get Gap business fail its initial evaluation of working conditions. It also discusses problems at factories with which The Gap does business. The company ended contracts with 136 factories last year because of problems with how they treated workers.

Human-rights activists who have complained about American companies using sweatshop labor abroad applauded the Gap report.

David Schilling, director of the global corporate-accountability program with the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility in New York, said: "There's no question that we are going to use this as an example to other companies. This will blaze a trail; the expectation of companies reporting will go up on these issues."

Schilling's group, which represents 275 faith-based institutional investors, has been talking with The Gap since 2002 about the issue of factory conditions and was able to view various versions of the report before it was made public, Schilling noted.

"We are going to be using this report to go to other companies," he said.

Alya Kayal, a human-rights analyst with Calvert, a family of socially responsible mutual funds, said in a statement: "To restore and maintain the confidence of consumers and investors, it is essential that retailers issue public reports detailing code [of conduct] compliance."

While Benjamin said that the report was not released to pressure other retailers to do the same, the company does hope that retailers will work together to create a uniform code of conduct that they all will enforce on suppliers.

The Gap will continue to discuss workplace issues, although it has no plans to make the report an annual publication.

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