A Sunday Times investigation found that one of the brands' suppliers, a Taiwanese owned factory in Lesotho, is dumping hazardous waste at an unguarded landfill site and polluting rivers with dangerous chemicals.
Bell Pottinger's head of crisis and issues management Alex Woolfall said Gap's response was ‘very good.'
‘There was an immediate response. You could see from the tone of what they said that they were taking it seriously. They put the factory on notice and said they would investigate with an independent local third party. That's classically what you tell a company to do in that situation.'
He said getting a third party involved was ‘always the right thing to do', to avoid accusations that a company-led investigation would not handle the situation with the appropriate rigour.
But he criticised Levi Strauss' response, which was to release a statement saying they were ‘disturbed'.
‘You can't build a brand on being socially responsible and then not respond when that is under attack. It's a horrible story, they should get out there and speak about it. It's much better to do that than making a slightly behind the scenes PR decision to let someone else carry the can. Gap will get more respect long term for speaking out', he said.
In the coming months, he advised Gap to update the media on its progress with the investigation, show the results and discuss the safeguards that they've put in place. ‘It's easy to say you are going to investigate, that's what everyone says. Tell the world what you've done, show something tangible', he said.
Regester Larkin’s MD Andrew Griffin agreed. He said while the companies seemed to be doing what they should be doing in the short term by expressing concern, ‘the real issue for me is that no clothing manufacturers or retailers have really told their story on this issue during ‘peace time’.'
‘They haven’t shown us that the vast majority of factories are well-run and providing valuable opportunities for people in developing countries. If they don’t challenge the public perception of ‘third world sweatshops’, then they can’t complain when the public assumes the worst after seeing the pictures and reading the stories in the papers’, he said.