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Gap and Nike: No Sweat?, Sunday October 15 2000

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There are many companies who are as guilty as Nike and Gap for exploiting vulnerable people and economies, are they not driven by consumer demand and competitiveness? Is that an excuse? I agree with many commentators in that the Panorama programme was somewhat simplistic and ignored a mass of complex issues. However, it has certainly raised the profile of this disgraceful situation, which cannot be a bad thing. Anyone who thinks that globalisation has little to do with this situation needs to open their eyes, the despicable disparity of wealth, health and education in 'less developed' countries is a result of their desire to emulate the unsustainable western life-style, and without remorse we live off it. Nike, Gap and all the other companies producing for us use these people because they are cheap - please tell me how such companies can care for their employees when this is their motivation behind employing these people? There is a word for all this 'Capitalism.' The situation will continue to shock us, in our comfortable homes and our cool clothes until we start looking beyond our own little self-centred worlds and changing our materialistic life-styles.
Dylan
Cardiff

Congratulations on this excellent expose of the attempts by GAP and NIKE to divert attention from their refusal to take action to address sweatshop conditions in their production factories. Their codes of conduct are meaningless unless they are independently assessed and workers have the right to organise to protect their rights. The only pity is fewer people will have watched this programme than would have done if Panorama still had a real prime time slot. This is the sort of show World in Action used to do and it's a pity it is buried on Sunday nights. This is what real current affairs should be about not the endless Westminster based gossip that is too prominent on TV news. All customers should join the email/web based campaigns to bring GAP and NIKE to account. Contact http://www.corporatewatch.org for details
Steven Weeks
London

I found the programme very informative in the way of showing how big multinationals fail to comply with their codes of conduct and actually lie to their customers. What I found disturbing, however, is the way the research was conducted and presented. It seemed that no respect was given for workers' privacy and for maintaining their anonymity, which was the case with the first group of women presented as well as the child workers. What will the consequences of your programme be? How will you ensure that those that provided you with information don't lose their job or otherwise be punished? I also feel this programme would have been greatly improved by presenting some of the arguments for and against the illegality of child labour.
Tanja Bastia
Swansea

I saw the programme about Nike and Gap - I think these companies make great clothes but if they are letting children work for them this is not right because small children should be at school playing with other children. More than anything they are breaking the law and their own law (the code of conduct) - It gives the company a bad name.
William Biddle
Rugby

The people in the Nike and Gap factories are treated badly. They don't get paid enough and are under age which gives Nike and Gap a bad reputation. Children should be sent to school to get an education so they can have a choice of what to do in life.
Micky Pails
Rugby

My reaction to your programme on Nike and Gap was not that of shock or horror. To me, it is the stark reality of the world that we live in today. Instead of just condemning Nike and Gap, we should look at the factors that has created this atmosphere of greed and exploitation that these companies are thriving on. Factors such as countries paying back massive debts to first world countries therefore not being able to give its own citizens viable jobs, good healthcare etc. That is why people are ready to go to any extent to get these jobs.
Yusuf Kayode
London

I saw the programme on the factories in Cambodia & Saipan producing Nike and Gap clothes. I think it was great that the programme showed up high street names breaking the law, but what about non high street names? Surely with a lower profile it is even easier for them to break the law in other countries.
Hagop Matossian
London

Do you think that by making these programmes, Nike and other companies will be forced to improve the implementation of their code of conduct?
Yilmaz Dogan
Maastricht

I served with the RAF in Hong Kong for 5 years until the handover and travelled quite extensively in SE Asia (for a serviceman, anyway). Whilst I agree with the general sentiments expressed in the programme regarding the employment of children, I believe that it should be pointed out that countries like Laos,Vietnam & especially Cambodia are in a similar situation to European countries at the dawn of the industrial age. After all, it is obvious to a great many who have seen Thailand, Indonesia or the Special Economic zones of China what the alternatives are. Many of these kids are supporting large families in remote villages with little hope of an education as we know it. We would be far better helping these kids achieve their full potential by putting in place an education system that would prepare them for work.
Garry Owen
Goose Bay, Newfoundland

I think that these people are being treated very unfairly. For the hard work that they do they are being paid nowhere near the amount that they should get. Nike and Gap have got loads of money lying in their bank, just sitting there doing nothing when they should be using that money to pay the people that are making all the stuff that millions of people buy each year. The women that was working for Gap was talking total crap. She wasn't answering any of the questions. Treat them how you would like to be treated. You are ruining their lives and tearing their families apart, we are just being selfish and greedy. Thank you Panorama for letting us see the truth behind the tick.
Ali.C
Rugby

I do not agree with the Nike and Gap treatment to the children who work there. I felt quite angry and I agree to the points that were said by the presenter. They have got loads of money in the bank and they are just being greedy by not paying the amount they deserve. I don't believe how the children could stay there and be treated the way they have been. They should be treated equal and paid equal. They have to live on the money they get from the work and they can't even afford to send money to their parents. It is good that they actually found out about this and that something is going to be done about this because I think this something that needs to be handled with.
Andrea Howe
Rugby

Excellent programme, however I was appalled but not surprised to learn the truth about the "GAP" and "NIKE". I fear though that this is just the tip of the iceberg. I have worked two discount retailers in the UK in the capacity as Import Manager and Import Accountant and the name of June Textiles is well known to me as well as many other South East Asia suppliers. Both of the companies I have worked for as well as the ones mentioned in your programme are really only interested in the "bottom line" i.e. net profit. Buyers and directors of both companies visit the countries and factories of "June Textiles" and other companies at least four times every year (coinciding with the sales cycles). Most know what the conditions are like but are not willing to commit to anything other than lip service for codes of conduct etc because failure to buy at the right price will mean lost sales in the UK and therefore lost profit. In both companies I was responsible for setting up "Letters of Credit" to pay suppliers (June Textiles included) and I am therefore aware of the base cost of the product. This is what happens when production in the UK is sacrificed for lower cost alternatives throughout the third world.
Peter M. Gleave
Widnes

Gap Inc. does not tolerate underage labour, even if workers submit falsified papers because of their desire to secure employment. If we discover instances of underage labour, we take swift and appropriate action. Since we learned about this situation at June Textiles we have suspended orders at the factory until all our questions are answered. Further, we have refused to accept the products made at this factory since we are as yet unable to determine if underage workers helped produce the clothing. The BBC interviewed a worker who said she was underage, then later reversed her story and said she was 18. We have examined the documents that the worker submitted when she applied for her job at the factory, and her paperwork reports her age at 18. We are currently working to independently verify the worker¿s age. Since her true age has not yet been determined, the worker remains employed at June Textiles. Additionally, Gap Inc. has engaged 11 investigators in Cambodia to verify all 3,800 workers¿ ages. If we confirm underage workers are on the payroll at June Textiles, what will we do next? We were asked: Will we compensate underage workers if they are removed from factory payrolls? We are very concerned about the welfare of all workers in factories producing for Gap Inc. Our focus is to ensure that legal workers at the factory are treated with dignity and respect. We have never before been approached about compensating underage workers discovered at factories. We are very uncomfortable launching a policy of compensating underage workers who falsified papers to secure employment. In a distressed country like Cambodia, such a policy might create an incentive for the underage to seek factory employment. At the same time, we would certainly encourage and expect factory management to offer to replace an existing underage worker with a legal-age family member. In addition, we are exploring alternative arrangements with other organisations to provide assistance to any underage workers found in factories, which might include access to education, or other benefits for the worker or the worker¿s family. During our interview with BBC, we cited many examples of the work we have done in Cambodia to improve working conditions. We shared the following facts:
-- No factory is ever perfect, which is why Gap Inc. has a Code of Vendor Conduct, and employs more than 80 people around the world to evaluate factories and monitor compliance with our Code. While we do not own the factories that produce our garments, we take our responsibilities seriously and strive to do business with only those factories that will meet our standards.
-- June Textiles, the factory in Phnom Penh, is certainly not perfect. However, we do not believe in terminating a factory because we find violations. Our goal is to help the factory improve so long as the factory¿s management demonstrates a commitment to continuously improving conditions and fixing the problems we identify. Though we were not pleased with its pace, June Textiles was making progress in addressing issues at the factory.
-- We have a record of aggressive Code enforcement in Cambodia. We suspended production at five factories. We rejected 14 factories based on initial evaluation. Earlier this year we terminated business with one of the country¿s biggest factories because of their inability to comply with our Code.
-- In one Cambodian factory 500 workers were sacked for suspected union-organising activity. Because our Code sanctions workers¿ freedom to associate, our Vendor Compliance Officers convinced the factory to restore those jobs.
The BBC chose not to include these important facts in their report about Cambodia. Because of our faith in the BBC¿s journalistic standards, we accepted their invitation to participate in the story. Sadly, we now believe that this faith was misplaced. The BBC argued that because they identified violations to our Code, our efforts are ineffective. This is akin to arguing that laws are ineffective because they are broken. This is precisely why codes are in place. Violators are cited. Most offenders change and eventually comply with the law. Or else more serious sanctions are enacted. Cambodia, like many other developing countries, is in desperate need of investment and job-creation. Our factory contracts stimulate economic development and opportunity for workers. Government officials, non-government organisations, labour activists and workers themselves have all said that factories are better when Gap is a customer. Their testimony assures us that our efforts are constructive. We thank you for your interest and invite you to visit gapinc.com for more information regarding Gap Inc.¿s Code of Vendor Conduct or call 020 7518 2546 to speak with a Gap Inc. representative.
Alan Marks
Gap Inc, San Francisco

I think it is wrong that child labour is going on in Nike and Gap warehouse! I think is it completely wrong of the managers to put young children, to make them stand up when working, forced to do over time is a real evil thing to do! The code of conduct for the places is a waste of time! In conclusion, I think it is WRONG of what Nike and Gap are doing!
Ellie Postles
Rugby

Organisations like Nike and Gap are not to blame for exploiting children. It is our fault - spoilt, fat, western superconsumers who demand lower and lower prices which drive this sector of the global retail market to exploit a cheap and willing labour force. Britain was no different in this respect 200 years ago. The programme itself was not objective or thorough. It was unacademic and almost sentimental in its portrayal of the workers and never looked behind the real issues which create these problems. The level of hypocrisy expressed in some of the feedback is stomach churning. If you really want an end to exploitation of child labour buy British clothing manufactured in British factories....But how may of you will pay £50 for a T shirt when Nike sell them for £11.99. M & S are on the ropes because they had home grown principles. Now they are forced to employ cheap labour and import clothing because British manufacturing is uncompetitive. Wake up everyone - global capitalist economic trade is brutal and has respect for only one ideal - Profit.
Damian Connolly
Harpenden

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