Thursday, November 01, 2007,3:41 PM
Token Gestures and True Justice
As a follow up to my post a couple of days ago regarding toys made in sweatshops, I want to point out other recent news regarding children being held in slave-like conditions to produce clothing for The Gap. An article Sunday in the London Observer revealed that children as young as ten years old have been subjected to work long hours without pay and regular threats and beatings in an Indian textile factory subcontracted to produce clothing for Gap Kids. This clothing was destined for American and European markets this Christmas. Children were being held in slavery to we could buy a $30 sequined t-shirt.

Gap of course did what it could to save its own butt and severed ties with the factory and is withholding the clothing. That makes them look good as a company, but does nothing to help the children. What is the Gap doing to assure that these kids won't be harmed because now their slaver isn't getting income? What is Gap doing to stop illegal indentured servitude that they found themselves a part of? Just severing ties saves face, but it doesn't solve the problem

This isn't the first time Gap has faced negative press because of its usage of sweatshops. Just last year reports came in of Gap clothing being made in sweatshops in Jordon where young teenage girls were trafficked in, stripped of their passports, held in slavery, beaten and raped by the factory owners. Over the last few years, Gap has attempted to overcome those damaging reports (as if the public cares anyway) by participating in token acts of charity and justice. Gap featured prominently in the Red Campaign by selling $50 t-shirts of which a portion would be donated to AIDS relief work. My favorite token gesture is the one Charles Kernaghan, Executive Director of the National Labor Committee, mentioned in his recent interview with Democracy Now!. Gap apparently created a Code of Conduct for their factories - voluntary compliance of course. It was printed on treeless paper using non-toxic soy based ink, all perfectly environmentally friendly and sustainable. The problem was that it was just a PR job, it had never actually been translated into a language besides English. The document about caring for people that itself cared for the earth never made it to the people it was meant to protect. The document was only to calm the fears of English speakers wanting to know that their clothing was ethically produced.

So while all token gestures are not just complete BS like Gap's Code of Conduct, they still remain mere token gestures. When coffee companies can pay their farmers below living wage and put production demands on them that force the farmers to use unsustainable practices, but by building one school near one of their coffee farms they can appear caring and just to their customers, why bother with anything more than token gestures? When a church group can volunteer once a year at a soup kitchen or fill up a couple of shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child and feel like they have helped the poor, token gestures are really all we see. Acting justly has become for many a one time event and not a day to day lifestyle. We have settled for token gestures instead of holistic approaches in our lives, and so let companies get away with token gestures instead of true reform. No wonder things have gotten so out of hand.

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posted by Julie at 3:41 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


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