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Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 07:03 GMT
Gap hit by 'sweatshop' protests
Gap is being targeted by activists who are telling Christmas shoppers that the struggling multi-national clothes retailer is encouraging the exploitation of workers.

Gap workers from Indonesia, Lesotho and El Salvador were presented at a press conference in Manhattan to describe how they were paid very little to work long hours making Gap clothes in factories full of health hazards and brutal working conditions.

The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, the Africa Forum and a college group also said they had documented "abusive working conditions" in 40 factories making Gap clothes in Cambodia, Indonesia and Bangladesh, as well as in Lesotho and in El Salvador and Mexico.

"We want Gap to stop exploiting sweatshop labour 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 organise unions to improve conditions in their factories."

Little influence

Gap insisted that it would work to prevent abuse taking place in its contracting factories around the world.

"Overall we share these concerns, and we work with factories to make sure that standards are maintained," said Gap spokeswoman Stacy MacLean.

"To the extent that we can influence that, we do."

Gap sold almost $14bn (8.8bn) worth of clothes last year in its 4,300 stores worldwide.


The anti-Gap protesters may face an uphill struggle.

"Today's global consumers want to protect their favourite brands and will preserve their allegiances to the extent of turning a blind eye to political and ethical malpractices," according to consultants Research International.

The researchers' conclusion was drawn after a poll of 1,500 "young urban consumers" in 41 countries.

"Consumers have become so good at creating personal, idealised images of their favourite brands that negative issues are largely put aside or forgotten," agreed Malcolm Baker, global director of Research International Qualitatif.

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