Photos by Anjali Kamat for Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera America certainly didn’t pull any punches when it made its anticipated debut. The news channel, the latest offshoot of the influential—if controversial—Qatari media empire, took to the airwaves on Tuesday with an investigative piece about Bangladesh’s troubled garment industry. Among the more provocative allegations is the use of child labor by leading American brands. In a segment for “Fault Lines,” correspondent Anjali Kamat paid a visit to Samie’s Finishing House in the capital of Dhaka, where she found children as young as 12 sewing elastic bands for for Old Navy pants in what amounted to a “shack in someone’s backyard.”
Samie’s, according to Kamat, is characteristic of the countless subcontracting factories at the bottom of the garment supply chain. “Completely unregulated” and “completely unauthorized,” the facility has neither fire exits nor extinguishers. The children interviewed on camera admit they no longer attend school, earning the equivalent of $32 a month for their efforts.
Samie’s, according to Kamat, is characteristic of the countless subcontracting factories at the bottom of the garment supply chain.
The minimum age to begin work in Bangladesh is 14, or 18 if the occupation is hazardous. Twelve-year-olds are allowed to do “light work,” meaning jobs that aren’t hazardous to their health or environment, or that won’t prevent them from receiving an education. One girl told Kamat she works as much as 14 hours a day.
“Gap Inc. does not do business with Samie’s Finishing House,” a spokesperson sad. “An immediate inspection of the facility found no Gap Inc. products and no evidence that Gap products had been produced there. If the facility at one time had products with a Gap Inc. brand label, those products were either counterfeit or improperly acquired by the facility.”
Kamat says, however, that she was able to match the barcodes on the tags she found at the finishing house to items sold by Old Navy in the United States.
This wouldn’t be the first time Gap has been accused of using child labor. In 2007, a British journalist based in New Delhi filmed children as young as 10 stitching embroidered shirts for Gap Kids in a “derelict industrial unit” flowing with excrement from a flooded toilet.
Gap said at the time that such violations were rare and vowed to end the use of child labor “once and for all.”
Update: Aug. 23, 2013
Gap has released an updated statement on Al Jazeera’s child-labor allegations: “Although the allegations of Gap Inc.’s relationship with Samie’s Finishing House are false, Gap Inc. is taking action out of concern for the welfare of the children identified. Underaged labor is absolutely unacceptable to Gap Inc. and all of our brands.
“We are working through official channels to alert local government officials and have notified international advocacy agencies so that steps can be taken to ensure children identified are cared for and are protected.”