Minding the GAP: Child labor in India

In London’s observer:

…an undercover Observer investigation in the back streets of New Delhi, reveal a tragic consequence of the West’s demand for cheap clothing. It exposes how, despite Gap’s rigorous social audit systems launched in 2004 to weed out child labour in its production processes, the system is being abused by unscrupulous subcontractors. The result is that children, in this case working in conditions close to slavery, appear to still be making some of its clothes.

Oh, that’s why the factories hated to see me coming. Now I get it. I thought that maybe I had bad breath, something in my teeth, or some other hygiene related issues. Here it turns out that journalists are bad news for factories that employ child labor.

No child should have to work and if they do you should at least pay them. And if you don’t even do that, at least don’t beat them. This is an important story: a major American retailer’s clothes are sewn by 10 year-old boys – nothing new, but important. It’s good to keep the issue out there.


To me the issue here isn’t that the kids work, don’t get paid, and are beaten, it’s that they were sold by their parents. A ten year old child sold by their very own parent.

I was bought from my parents’ village in [the northern state of] Bihar and taken to New Delhi by train,’ he says. ‘The men came looking for us in July. They had loudspeakers in the back of a car and told my parents that, if they sent me to work in the city, they won’t have to work in the farms. My father was paid a fee for me and I was brought down with 40 other children.

My thinking went like this:

– dude GAP is in for it
– poor kids
– if you work them, pay them
– don’t beat them
– what kind of parent sells their kids
– what kind of conditions (political, social, economical) must a family be living in to think it a good idea to sell their 10-year-old

The story shouldn’t be just about the GAP, but it is. Long after GAP has righted the wrongs of their suppliers in India, the conditions will still remain that parents have to sell their children. We are selfish to think that by simply not buying GAP products we are doing our part to right the problem. The problem is poverty. The problem isn’t just your shirt.

When you read about parents selling their children, the issues of the GAP’s suppliers seems a small part of a much larger problem. But that larger problem isn’t nearly as sexy as a story about a major American corporation.

Kent says:

I think people like to pick and chose which problems to take on and which to leave to others. Pointing a finger at the GAP is much easier, more newsworthy, and as you said, sexier than tackling the conditions that would cause a family to sell a child.

Part of the problem lies with us. What is it about our society that causes people to prefer reading about corporate gaffes instead of the real problems affecting millions of people?

Kelsey says:

War, poverty, genocide…there is so much wrong with the world that we have to pick and choose what actions to take or if we even want to be bothered to take any action at all. Stories like this one about the GAP have led to changes in the garment industry that, in most cases, are probably for the better. But why couldn’t this reporter highlight the context, which these children are living and why their parents had to sell them? A paragraph is all it would take.

I’m as guilty as the next guy for skipping the headline on hunger in Africa and heading right for the corporate gaffe. It’s scary what what we become numb too.

Let your voice be heard!