Sunday, October 28, 2007


I hope you don't mind me taking a minute to do this, but I have some serious outrage I have to get off my chest. Indulge me. It'll only take a minute, I promise.

Mrs. Agitator and I did something I truly loathe yesterday afternoon. We went to the mall. I hate the mall. Don't get me wrong: I don't mind shopping. Some kinds of shopping, anyway. I actually enjoy buying some kinds of stuff. Yesterday, for example, I got new shoes. Nice soft ones. Clarke's. Like butter. On sale. So the experience wasn't as grubbifying obscene as going to the mall usually is for me. But malls in general make me ill. Like, almost physically sick. They smell of disinfectant, greasy "food court" fare, and assorted ick. They're too bright. They're too loud. They're usually way too hot inside. They're full of people who won't look you in the eye unless they are trying to get you to change your cell phone plan. And on a rainy fall day in New Jersey, they are usually filled to the gills with sullen, sad-looking people who all look as unhappy as I usually feel when I'm stuck in there with them. But it got me out of the house with my wife, and I got new shoes out of the deal.

While strolling hand in hand with my sweetie down the main promenade, I couldn't help but notice the huge signs in the windows of the humongous Gap store our local mall has. Especially the gigantic picture of an obviously-supposed-to-be-mostly-nekkid Anne Hathaway. I guess it was supposed to catch our attention, and draw our (or at least my) eyeballs to the Gap's (RED) campaign, which is what the poster was for. I think. What a semi-nude Anne Hathaway has to do with fighting HIV/AIDS or poverty in Africa, I haven't a clue. But whatever. It worked. It got my attention. Normally, I would never give the Gap a second glance. At 49 and counting and thoroughly unhip to the core, I simply am not in their demographic. Right underneath the giant celebrity posters were piles of over-priced red t-shirts and other goodies, all bearing some variation of the themed logo. According to other materials posted in the store, proceeds from the sale of this swag go to fund anti-HIV/AIDS programs in Africa, with the focus being on women and children. Sounds good, right? Helping the little children and all...

Then today, I read this little chestnut:

LONDON (AP) Oct. 28 - A British newspaper reported Sunday that it found children as young as 10 making clothes in a sweatshop in New Delhi, India, that the Gap Inc. fashion chain planned to sell in the West.

The Observer quoted the children as saying they had been sold to the sweatshop by their families in Indian states such as Bihar and West Bengal and would not be allowed to leave until they had repaid that fee.

Some, working as long as 16 hours a day to hand-sew clothing, said they were not being paid at the unidentified Gap supplier because their employer said they were still trainees.

The clothing retailer said the sweatshop was being run by a subcontractor hired in violation of Gap's policies, and none of the product made there will be sold in its stores. [Funny how there's always a "sub-contractor" to blame when this happens, isn't it?]

"We appreciate that the media identified this subcontractor, and we acted swiftly in this situation," Gap spokesman Bill Chandler told The Associated Press on Sunday. "Under no circumstances is it acceptable for children to produce or work on garments."

The Observer quoted one boy identified only as Jivaj as saying that child employees who cried or did not work hard enough were hit with a rubber pipe or had oily cloths stuffed into their mouths.

The paper said the sweatshop, or "derelict industrial unit," that it found during its investigation in New Delhi was "smeared in filth, the corridors flowing with excrement from a flooded toilet." [Snarky commentary mine.]

The rest is here. It's pretty bad, but not anything you haven't heard before if you're familiar with the issues of child labor and sweat shops. Pardon me for being cheesed about this. Please excuse my naivete. I know Corporate America is up to its collective whazoo in dirty little secrets, but, my goodness, this one is a real keeper, isn't it? Those giant posters might as well say, "We'll fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, but we'll do it by enslaving and exploiting other people's kids someplace else. Just don't tell anyone about it." And when you view the ads on the Gap's web site, you'll see celebs posing with their children, including one of the Dixie Chicks. Wonder how my beloved Natalie Maynes would feel if someone stuffed an oily rag in her child's mouth...

There. Now YOU know. Just in time for the holiday shopping season. Feel free to keep this in mind when you're making a list and checking it twice.

And here's a list of links you can use to help you make more infomed choices when it comes to buying guilt-free, sweat shop-wise:

- AFL-CIO: Stop Sweatshops

- Multinational Monitor

- Boycott Action: Co-op America

- Global Exchange

- Behind the Label


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