Gap is “cheating the poorest workers in the world,”, according to the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights. In a report published Thursday, the Pittsburgh-based watchdog charged the parent company behind the Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Piperlime, and Athleta brands of violating its own code of conduct. Despite being the largest apparel retailer in the United States, Gap has “no idea what is going on” with the factories that manufacture its goods in Bangladesh. Take, for instance, Next Collections, a Ha-meem Group–owned facility outside Dhaka that devotes roughly 70 percent of its production to Gap and Old Navy.
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The facility’s 3,750 workers are routinely forced to work over 100 hours a week for only 20 to 24 cents per hour, says Charles Kernaghan, director of the institute. Physical punishment is par for the course, as are illegal firings, fraudulent pay slips (to “pretend that Gap is in compliance with legal hours and wages”), deplorable living conditions (workers live in “tiny primitive hovels”), and wretched poverty. By the third week in a month, most have no money left for food, he adds.
The facility’s 3,750 workers are routinely forced to work over 100 hours a week for only 20 to 24 cents per hour, per the report.
“Young women sewing Old Navy children’s clothing have been arbitrarily fired and denied their paid maternity leave, while also being shortchanged of their outstanding legal benefits,” Kernaghan says. “A young woman just 20 years of age recently lost her baby in her seventh month of pregnancy due to being forced to work over 100 hours a week. She was working on Old Navy jeans.”
Another worker, Taniya, Begum was coerced to resign after she asked for maternity leave and benefits. Begum claims that Next Collections also threatened her with jail and death. Zesmin Khatun says she was forced to quit for “health reasons,” i.e., being pregnant. “The bosses had no sympathy for being pregnant,” she adds.
Mazharul Islam describes being physically attacked and threatened with death when his wife asked for maternity leave. “The managing director kicked me hard on my back two or three times. He ordered a security guard to beat me with a cane stick,” he recalls. “I thought I would faint.”
When members from the institute met with a group of Next Collections workers in June, they weren’t prepared for the sight that greeted them. “They were exhausted, skinny, dazed, and with deep shadows under their bloodshot eyes,” they recount in the report. “In nearly 30 years of interviewing workers across the developing world, we had never seen workers who looked so exhausted.”
Members of the institute had “never seen workers who looked so exhausted.”
Gap and Old Navy monitors have “allowed themselves to be duped,” says the report. Gap monitors barely spend 20 minutes on the plant floor before heading to the office to meet with management. Workers are coached to respond with canned answers; typically filthy bathrooms are cleaned and freshened up for the visitors.
If Gap audited working conditions, hours, and wages at Next Collections, Kernaghan urges the company to release its audit reports. “It does not have to be this way,” he says. “I believe that if we can work together in good faith, both Gap and the Bangladeshi workers will be better off.”
Gap says it is currently investigating the allegations. “Our contracts require that factory management pay overtime and abide by all local labor laws and industry standards,” says spokeswoman Debbie Mesloh. “Should these allegations prove to be true, Gap Inc. will take action, up to and including terminating its business relationship.”