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Moral Consistency On Gap Kids and Sweatshops

The people at The Onion are the masters of humor. They were doing The Daily Show before there was The Daily Show. I’ve respected their work for years. I also know enough about The Onion that one has to be careful not to interpret their satire as literally true.

So, I’m not sure what to make of this funny video, which purports to report on the Gap Kids For Kids By Kids clothing line.


Gap Unveils New ‘For Kids By Kids’ Clothing Line

It seems that The Onion is drawing attention, in a satirical way, to The Gap’s use of child labor in foreign countries to produce inexpensive clothing for children in the United States. This video led me to try to find out more about the clothing sold at Gap Kids and child workers in foreign countries.

The information I found was not clear. It seems that The Gap does have a long history of getting its clothes from operations in foreign countries that abuse workers in many ways, including the use of child workers. There are many reports, however, that beginning in 2002, The Gap has been working on creating and enforcing a system of review of the outsourced factories that it uses to get cheap clothing, to make sure that The Gap eventually stops using sweatshops to supply its stores.

The Gap has indeed cut its relationships to many abusive factories in the last several years. However, I remain skeptical. Corporate public relations often covers up a less pretty truth. I’d like to find some more concrete information on the issue, and if someone can point me in the right direction, I’d be much obliged.

There are many other companies, however, for which the sweatshop issue is much less complicated. One of these companies is CafePress. CafePress has some clothes that are free of sweatshop labor, and some that aren’t. The distinction between these two kinds of clothes is clear. The clothes made for CafePress by American Apparel are not made in sweatshops. Everything else is.

Here at Irregular Times, we sell some shirts made by CafePress, but only those shirts that are made by American Apparel. Wherever else we sell shirts online, we follow the same promise: To only sell shirts that are not made by companies that use sweatshop labor. That’s why we’ve recently begun selling shirts at Skreened – like us, Skreened only sells shirts guaranteed made without sweatshop labor.

It’s frustrating, sometimes, to follow the no sweatshop promise. There are a lot of opportunities for us out there, to sell t-shirts quickly, easily, and cheaply… but using exploited labor to do so. So, we understand why so many other web sites give in to the temptation to make an easy buck off of the work of abused laborers. It’s easy to just not think about what really goes into that cheap shirt.

I’m sure that’s what behind the choice of PrideDEPOT to sell shirts from CafePress that are made by companies with a history of using sweatshop labor. It seems that H. Lukas Green of PrideDEPOT admires the very same short video by The Onion, satirizing sweatshop labor, that I admired. But, when you look on over to the graphic on the right hand side of that video, it features a t-shirt designed by PrideDEPOT, featured on a t-shirt made in a sweatshop!

The message of this t-shirt design is ironic: Where is the outrage? Indeed, PrideDEPOT. Where is the outrage?

Instead of just embarrassing PrideDEPOT, I’m going to help them find a way out of this moral quandry they’re in, of joining in the satirical condemnation of sweatshop labor while selling clothes made in sweatshops themselves. I’ll be sending the following email to them today:

“To the good people at PrideDEPOT:

I appreciate your work on the PrideDEPOT web site, motivated by the ideal of defending liberty for all people. I’m especially glad that you helped me find the recent video produced by The Onion that satirizes the Gap Kids sweatshop labor problem.

I was a bit disappointed, however, to see on that very same page of your web site that you’re advertising a companion shop of your at CafePress. In that shop, many of the shirts that you sell are made by companies with a history of using sweatshop labor, and there is no guarantee whatsoever that those shirts are sweatshop-free.

Fortunately, some of the CafePress shirts are guaranteed sweatshop-free. These are the items that are made by American Apparel: The organic cotton t-shirt, the fitted t-shirt, the spaghetti tank top, the raglan, and the jr. hoodie. It’s my understanding that these are the only sweatshop-free shirts offered by CafePress.

We at Irregular Times sell through CafePress as well, but because we have the same moral objection to sweatshop labor as you do, we make sure only to sell the CafePress shirts made by American Apparel. I hope that you will join us in this decision, and in our communication to Cindy Clarke, Director of Merchandise for CafePress, (cclarke@cafepress.com), requesting that CafePress expand its offerings of sweatshop-free clothing.

Do you have a CafePress catalog online yourself? Look at what you’re selling, and see if you are putting any of the sweatshop-made shirts online for sale. Then, you need to decide if you’re willing to make the ethical compromise of supporting sweatshops in the hopes of making a buck. If you are willing to make that compromise, then you’re also forfeitting the right to criticize giant clothing outlets like The Gap when they choose to use sweatshops and look the other way.

Update: Jody May-Chang, the founder and editor of PrideDEPOT, has sent the following positive response: “Thank you for taking the time to bring this to our attention. We will most certainly look into this further and make appropriate changes.”

Good for her. We look forward to seeing those changes.

10 comments to Moral Consistency On Gap Kids and Sweatshops

  • You guys are on the right track. Since I wrote about CafePress for World Fair Trade Day, people are finding my blog with search strings like “cafepress reputation sweatshop.” Today someone from Zazzle–which I understand offers only sweatshop shirts–peaked at my site.

  • Jim

    It’s not so much that Zazzle offers only sweatshop shirts. They actually offer American Apparel shirts. It’s just that a shopkeeper can’t choose to make sweatshop shirts unavailable to consumers.

  • Until some level of certification becomes accepted, it will be hard to truly know where and how our clothes are made. I run a website that sells organic, sweatshop free and/or fair trade apparel (primarily t-shirts): http://offyourbackshirts.com. It has been hard to find reliable sources of quality shirts made justly. But, nevertheless, we have found some sources we feel better about than others.

    I one comment about American Apparel (which I refuse to source from) is that their track record concerning sexually suggestive marketing and even sexual harrasment lawsuits in their workplace is very distrubing. There are increasingly other options out there.

  • Jim

    Yes, they have sexually suggestive marketing. I am unaware of any conclusion to the sexual harassment lawsuits by which juries concluded that sexual harassment occurred. If you have some indication of findings in favor of plaintiffs, could you provide a link to that information? And are you aware of any lawsuits originating after 2005, when American Apparel management responded by changing its policies, or after 2006, when American Apparel was to be sold to new owners? If so, could you provide a link to that information? The information I have indicates that the one person who used to own American Apparel is the source of all sexual harrassment complaints, and that now he no longer owns American Apparel.

    I note from your own website that you sell some shirts that by your description come from sweatshops: “Currently, all of our shirts are organic, but not all are sweatshop free or fair trade.” I’m curious about what line of thinking led you to prioritize sexual harassment lawsuits regarding one person at American Apparel (all of which that I’m aware of pre-date American Apparel changes of the last two years) over the rights and compensation of all workers at shirt factories. American Apparel is quite upfront about those policies, giving quite a high confidence in sourcing that, you’re right, is much harder to verify once you go to overseas or Latin American sources.

    On sourcing: I notice that you are selling one shirt that is labeled as organic but as neither “sweatshop-free” or “fair trade” (to use your terms). The phrase on that shirt is “Poverty Sucks.” Could you provide the brand of shirt on which the “Poverty Sucks” message is printed, and indicate what factory that brand of shirt is produced at?

    It’s hard to express subtleties of intention when writing online, so let me say I’m not intending to harsh on you here — just to collect information, because I don’t understand where you’re coming from.

  • Junga

    Organic Fair Trade: Shirts that aren’t actually fair trade, but no sexually provocative models!

    What bull!

    Yes, I DO intend to be harsh, even though Jim won’t. What malarkey!

  • I believe one sexual harrassment lawsuit was thrown out and the other settled out of court.

    The suggestive marketing I don’t have a problem with–after all people buy clothes they want to look good in. Sexual harrassment, however, is a completely different matter. No one should have to provide sexual favors in order to eat. Whether this guy was a sexual predator or not, I can’t say, but he is now out of the picture. One of the reasons he is out of the picture is that the U.S., unlike some other countries, has laws against sexual harrassment and mechanisms for dealing with these problems when they come up.

    The guy wearing the poverty sucks shirt is pretty hot, but most outfits that claim their products are produced with fair labor practices also provide more detailed information about wage scales and such.

  • My letter to CafePress is as follows. I will keep you psoted.

    Dear Ms. Clark,

    I received the email below from Mr. Cook of Irregular Times a couple of weeks ago. After doing some research, I would like to know what CafePress is doing to resolve this issue? I would hate to think that CafePress and PrideDEPOT.com are supporting sweatshops and slave labor. This goes against our core values and is morally and ethically wrong.

    I would like CafePress to provide PrideDEPOT.com with a list of apparel products that are made ethically and respectfully request that you expand your sweatshop-free products. If the items listed below by Mr. Cook are all that are available as sweatshop-free, that would seriously impact our store inventory and our customers. After having been a CafePress merchant for sometime I would sincerely hate to have to look for another merchant provider for our apparel products.

    I wish to thank you for your time. I strongly urge CafePress to move as quickly as possible to resolve this issue, and we will greatly appreciate your prompt attention to our request for an updated product list. ###

    We have begun the process of making changes to the store and expect be making more chages after we recieve the latest list.

  • I would like to inform Irregular Times readers that we at PrideDEPOT.com have completely purged our CafePress store of all offending items that we are aware of. If we have missed something please do let us know and we will remove it.

    We have placed a public notice on our website in front of access to there store so customers and site visitors are informed of the changes and why.

    We regret to say that we have yet to hear from CafePress. We find this very disappointing. However we are happy to report that we are currently in negotiations with another provider that is working with us to ensure ethical labor practice of ALL products we offer in the future. We will keep you posted on progress in that regard.

    Thank you very much to the folks of Irregular Times for the great work they are doing to improve the lives and conditions of sweatshop workers across the globe.

    Kind Regards,
    Jody May-Chang, Editor / Founder
    PrideDEPOT.com

  • Jim

    Y’all are awesome, Jody. Look for a post today.

  • Iroquois Honky

    “Corporate Responsibility” is now a part of Nike’s official business plan, according to a press release yesterday:

    http://www.nike.com/nikebiz/news/pressrelease.jhtml?year=2007&month=05&letter=j

    They now publish names and locations of all their factories–many in Vietnam as well as China–but I don’t see info on wages or child labor.

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