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Will The Gap’s Image Get a Boost Only Time Will Tell

May 17, 2004
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When it comes to corporate social responsibility, one expert says the devil is not in the details. The devil is in the follow up--what a company does with the details.

Gap, Inc. released a "Social Responsibility Report" last week, outlining forced-labor, child-labor and other violations in its own factories around the world. David Gebler, president and founder of the ethics-consultancy Working Values, says the issuance of the report, regardless of how candid it is, is unlikely on its own to boost consumer demand for Gap products or improve employee morale, recruiting and retention.

Gebler says that for years, Levi Strauss was far ahead of other corporations in its socially responsible practices, but "consumers didn’t care." Similarly, Gebler cites Timberland as one of the most responsible corporations but its CEO Jeff Swartz admits that a consumer wouldn’t pay a penny more for one of his boots just because the company is socially active.

When it comes to recruiting and retention, Gebler says employees will be watching to see how the Gap follows up on the information the company uncovered in its factories. Employees will ask, "what’s the company going to do about it" and watch for results. As opposed to just statements and information, Gebler says, "People want to see behavior." If improvements and changes are made, employees’ perceptions about their company will increase; otherwise, they’ll see the report as merely a public-relations move.

The Gap report offers a comprehensive look at the labor standards in the approximately 3,000 garment factories worldwide that produce merchandise for the company's Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic stores. It details the percentage of Gap factories that violated minimum wage, forced labor, discrimination and other standards in China, India, the Persian Gulf, South America and elsewhere.

Shell, The Body Shop, Reebok are among the other companies that have released information about their "socially responsible" corporate practices.

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