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The GAP Campaign - a campaign for justice for workers in the global garment industry
From Chip Mitchell, Resource Center of the Americas, 10 December 1995
(Subsequent postings about the GAP campaign will be on the labr.global conference)
Across the United States and Canada a major campaign is developing to force major clothing retailers to require serious improvements in the below-subsistence wages and oppressive conditions of the workers - mainly teen-age women - who make the clothing. Public awareness of the plight of workers in maquiladora-type factories in third world countries and in illegal sweatshops in the U.S. and Canada has increased immensely in the past six months.
The GAP has become the first target of the campaign. This is mainly a result of the GAP using a Salvadoran maquila, Mandarin International, in which workers formed a union to try to negotiate an end to a variety of terrible conditions. The workers were all fired and the union's president was abducted and tortured. The GAP went to great lengths to deny that it had happened (it has since been corroborated by N.Y. Times reporter Bob Herbert, and by Salvadoran human rights groups) and pretty much made itself the target as a result.
This is not (at least at this point) a boycott of the GAP. It is a campaign to use public opinion to make it clear to the company that its public image (a retailer's most important asset) is in jeapordy. The campaign is using three approaches at this point: widespread letter writing, informational picketing at GAP stores, and shareholder resolutions being brought to the company's annual meeting by religious organizations.
The campaign has grown rapidly since it began this summer, with active groups working on it in more than a dozen cities. Hopefully, this posting will alert other potentially interested people to the campaign's work.
Main contacts for the campaign include:
The National Labor Committee
You can contact theses people, particularly the National Labor Committee, for extensive background information on the campaign and conditions of maquila workers in Caribbean Basin countries. Information from these groups will soon being posted directly on the labr.global conference. The National Labor Committee has an excellent 23 minute video, "Zoned for Slavery: The Child Behind the Label," which focuses on maquila workers in Honduras. It is a truly wonderful outreach tool.
Here in Minnesota, the work is being conducted mainly through the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition. Contact us at 612-627-9445, or firstname.lastname@example.org
To date, most of the work in Minnesota has been outreach to high school and college students. "Zoned for Slavery" has been shown to more than 3,000 students in more than a dozen high schools and four colleges in the state - mostly in the Twin Cities area.. We have arranged these showings through sympathetic teachers (mostly Spanish and Social Studies teachers).
Hundreds of letters have been sent to the GAP through this outreach (generally teachers allow students who want to, to write letters during classtime the day after the video is presented). More than 500 students and teachers in the area have signed up to be on our local GAP Campaign mailing list. We are sending regular updates to them. Showings at more schools are set up and new requests are coming in almost daily. (If you want help finding sympathetic teachers in your area, contact us - we have a national list of teachers who may be interested. It may include teachers in your area)
Students in some schools have developed very creative approaches for carrying on campaign work in their schools. At Hastings High School, the Spanish National Honor Society chapter is constructing a "mural" on a huge sheet of paper to send to the GAP. It will contain a letter to the GAP surrounded by GAP labels that students have cut off of GAP clothing that they own. Students will sign their names by the labels they bring in. They will also be tabling in the lunch room to generate letters and post cards from other students and showing "Zoned for Slavery" on public access cable television in Hastings.
At the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, student activists are holding a neatly planned "fashion show" that will show the not-so-pretty realities behind the nice clothes that the GAP and other retailers sell. The College's administration is helping out by doing media work for the event. The students are also showing the video to other students and tabling for letters.
We will continue to focus on outreach to students both because they are the main customer base for the GAP and because the issue allows a tremendous opportunity to talk to young people about the ugly realities og the "new global economy."
Stay tuned to the labr.global conference for further information on the GAP Campaign.