Gap to investigate allegations of India using child labour

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Washington, Oct 29 (UNI) In view of the allegations that in India 'forced child labour' was being used in the making of their designer clothes, The Gap, one of the topmost fashion garment chain of stores, has convened an emergency meeting to investigate the matter.

The Gap said it was unaware that clothes for the Christmas market, on their way to Europe and America, were made by child workers, as young as ten years old, hired by local suppliers.

Making no bones about its zero-tolerance for child labour, the Gap has stopped all work on the order and withdrew all problem garments from stores. It has also barred thousands of clothes in transit to their shops amid fears that children in India as young as 10 were making them, according to the Independent newspaper, published from UK.

It quoted The Observer saying children in the country were beaten and made to hand-sew clothes in 16 hours, often for no wages.

Many children were ''bought'' as bonded labour from their parents, and worked only for food and board. One child spoke of being beaten with a rubber pipe if they did not work hard enough; others said oily rags were stuffed in their mouths if they cried.

The Gap, an international chain, with more than 3,000 shops, claims that only one range of clothing from the sweatshop in Delhi was made using child labour. This was an embroidered girl's smock blouse for Gap Kids. The children hand-stitching the beads were not paid, but the garment would have sold for about 20 pounds.

Dan Henkle, Gap Inc's senior vice-president of social responsibility, called the allegations ''deeply upsetting''.

''Our team in India is conducting a full investigation and we have already made sure the products will never be sold. Although violations of our strict prohibition on child labour are extremely rare, we are calling for an urgent meeting with all suppliers in this region to reinforce this policy.'' The revelations of child labour will only add fuel to those who have campaigned to stop Gap outsourcing large contracts to the developing world.

To keep critics at bay, the fashion chain launched its first major social audit in 2004, which revealed abuses by 136 suppliers, including child labour, physical punishment and forced labour.

All of these contracts were ended and, in the past year, a further 23 suppliers have had contracts terminated for abuses.

Gap's clothes are supposed to comply with a stringent policy where all workers must be over 14, or above the legal working age.

Outsourcing labour to Asia, where wages are cheaper, and labour laws less stringent, is increasingly popular for Western fashion chains.

''You'd find these labour problems in the supply chain of any company outsourcing to India. Gap is making more of an effort than many,'' Martin Herason, campaigns co-ordinator of an NGO, 'Labour Behind the Label' said.

UNI

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