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Copyright 2002 Associated Press  
Associated Press Worldstream

November 20, 2002 Wednesday

Union, students demand Gap end 'sweatshop' production


Seeking to hit the Gap where it would hurt most, textile union activists mounted a pre-holiday campaign to force the giant retailer to stop producing clothing in what it called sweatshops.

Spokesmen for the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, joined by the Africa Forum and a college group, told a midtown Manhattan news conference on Wednesday that the Gap was encouraging the exploitation of workers in six countries.

Recent research had documented "abusive working conditions" at 40 Gap-contracted clothing factories in Cambodia, Lesotho, Indonesia, Bangladesh, El Salvador and Mexico, UNITE officials said. The activists set up mannequins in Gap clothing in front of a Gap store and distributed handbills reading, "Don't buy me GAP this holiday season."

UNITE officials said their campaign includes a strategy of e-mailings to 13 million union members and hundreds of students and church leaders, urging recipients to fax protests over Gap's alleged use of sweatshops to company CEO Paul Pressler.

"We want the Gap to stop exploiting sweatshop labor around the world," said union official Steve Weingarten. "We want them to pay a wage that allows a decent standard of living and allow workers to organize unions to improve conditions in their factories."

Gap spokeswoman Stacy MacLean said the company makes a concerted effort to assure that its contract vendors abroad meet legal and acceptable standards on wages, working conditions and other factors affecting employees.

"Overall we share these concerns, and we work with factories to make sure that standards are maintained," MacLean said. "To the extent that we can influence that, we do."

To support their claims of exploitation, the organizers presented workers from Indonesia, Lesotho and El Salvador, who described low pay, long hours, health hazards and brutal working conditions at factories turning out Gap products.

Gap Inc. is one of the nation's largest clothing retailers, with sales of close to $14 billion last year. It has 4,300 stores in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan. Besides the Gap brand, it owns Banana Republic and Old Navy stores.

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