After months of escalating protests, Gap has finally capitulated—or at least someone wants us to think it has. An email on Tuesday, alleging to be from the American apparel giant, claimed that Gap had decided to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally enforceable, first-of-its-kind contract that holds brands accountable for safety and labor conditions in the factories they employ in Bangladesh. Despite its convincing tone, the press release, its accompanying website, www.gapdoesmore.com, and the affiliated Twitter account, @gapdoesmore, are completely fraudulent, according to company officials.
“These sites are not authorized by Gap Inc. or any of its brands,” Laura Wilkinson, senior manager, public affairs and communication, at Gap, told Ecouterre. “We are investigating the source of these fake digital properties.”
The website, which bore the motto “Do more than sell clothes,” has since been taken down. Twitter has also suspended @gapdoesmore, although a replacement account, @gapdoesnothing, was still live at press time.
The hoax email said that the retailer, which also operates the Old Navy, Banana Republic, Athleta, Piperlime, and Intermix brands, takes its commitment to improving conditions in Bangladesh “very seriously.” It also claimed that Gap would be compensating the victims and families of the fires at That’s It Sportswear in October 2010 and Aswad Composite Mills in October 2013.
Gap has shunned the Bangladesh Safety Accord—almost infamously so—since its inception. Forged in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed over 1,133 people and injured thousands more in April 2013, the agreement has long been a bone of contention between Gap and labor-rights groups.
In January, the Berne Declaration and Greenpeace Switzerland bestowed the retailer with the dubious Public Eye Jury Award for its “steadfast [refusal] to contribute to effective reforms in the textile industry.”
MIND THE GAP
The so-called announcement coincided with Gap’s annual shareholder meeting in San Francisco, where representatives from the International Labor Rights Forum, Jobs with Justice San Francisco, SumOfUs, and United Students Against Sweatshops delivered the Public Eye Award to the company earlier today.
“Today, we presented Gap with the ‘Award of Shame’ to raise the voices of Bangladeshi workers and activists around the world who are calling on Gap to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh,” Martin Caldwell of SumOfUs, which nominated Gap for the Public Eye Award together with ILRF and USAS, said in a statement. “The accord could help to make the factory fires and building collapses a thing of the past, but Gap refuses to sign. It’s time for Gap to live the values that they claim to uphold, and start putting workers’ lives over their corporate profits.”
Demonstrators urged Gap to not only sign the accord but also compensate the victims and families of disasters at factories it previously worked with. They additionally pressed the retailer to demand a minimum wage of $160 per month from its Cambodian suppliers—while paying the factories enough to support the wage increase—and to insist that the Cambodian government release the 21 activists it has detained since January.
Gap is a founding member of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a consortium of mostly North American brands and retailers that includes fellow accord holdout Walmart. Campaigners, however, have denounced this rival plan as a “sham” and a “superficial attempt to mimic the original accord, while omitting the features that make the agreement meaningful.”
Correction: May 21, 2014
An earlier version of this story inaccurately reported Gap’s signing of the accord as fact. We regret
our gullibility the error.
Update: May 21, 2014
18MillionRising.org, a group that describes itself as an “unprecedented Asian American Pacific Islander online organizing and civic engagement organization” has admitted that it was behind the “prank.”
“The facts are that Gap Inc. has made no move to sign the legally binding Bangladesh Accord, or to pay the compensation it owes for lives lost at Aswad despite ongoing international protest from garment industry workers and activists,” said PaKou Her and Cayden Mak in an email late Tuesday. “Since 2005, over 1,800 workers have died in industrial accidents at Bangladeshi factories supplying western brands and retailers. Spouses have been widowed, children have been orphaned, and entire communities left impoverished and traumatized—all for the sake of profits.”
While Gap has since discredited the hoax, the retailer is still avoiding key questions, they added. “Why has the company refused to compensate the families of injured and deceased factory workers?” Her and Mak asked. “Why does the company continue to avoid signing the Bangladesh [Safety] Accord—choosing instead to collaborate with Walmart, a corporation notorious for creating fronts for unregulated, false accountability?”
18MillionRising said this wasn’t a hoax for hoax’s sake. “It’s about justice for the workers who make the company possible,” Her and Mak wrote. “Gap Inc. has refused so far to “do more” for the most vulnerable workers in its supply chain, so now we are demanding more.”
Update: May 23, 2014
The gapdoesmore.com website is back online, albeit in truncated form.
A letter, accompanied by a signable petition, reads:
Dear Gap Inc.:
We’re glad you’re paying attention to the struggle for fair labor practices in Bangladesh! We obviously think this issue is super important, and we’re glad you agree.
We know that ethics are something you take seriously, but it’s a little over-the-top to accuse our spoof website of “fraud,” considering we aren’t getting a dime from anyone through this. Frankly, we think that the real fraud here is the Bangladesh Alliance on Worker Safety–since it’s not legally enforceable or involve third party inspections, but does go a long way to making your brand look pretty shiny.
We also just wanted to add that we were thrilled to read in Women’s Wear Daily that you’re “exploring your options” about what action you should take. We’d like to encourage you to consider the options thoroughly, and not rule out any of them, including what seems to be the most obvious: compensating families of the dead and survivors of the Aswad Composite Mills fire and signing the Bangladesh Accord. Sometimes the best solution is the simplest one, right?
We’re looking forward to hearing what’s next for Gap Inc. Maybe next time you can drop us a line directly instead of passing us notes via our web host?
Cayden Mak, 18MillionRising.org
And the Undersigned