GAP MEETS RIGHTS GROUP ON SALVADOR

Byline: Bud Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO--Representatives of The Gap Inc. and the National Labor Committee expressed satisfaction with the results of a meeting late Wednesday concerning the NLC's charges against an El Salvador contractor for the apparel chain.
As reported, the NLC, a coalition of 25 labor unions, held a demonstration at The Gap's distribution center at 1 Harrison St. here as part of a national campaign protesting harsh conditions faced by workers in Caribbean and Central American apparel contracting plants, such as low wages, long shifts and sexual harassment. The demonstration was followed by the meeting between NLC and Gap officials at the firm's headquarters in nearby San Bruno.
The plant involved in the discussion with The Gap is Mandarin International, a Taiwanese-owned maquiladora operating in the San Marcos Free Trade Zone.
A Gap spokesman called the meeting "productive."
"We were pleased to have some light thrown on the subject, and we are convinced that the controversy will be resolved. We are incorporating some of the union's suggestions into our investigation and we will continue until it is resolved," he said. The Gap had stated earlier that it was conducting its own probe of conditions at Mandarin, but had not yet uncovered any violations of the retailer's sourcing guidelines. However, until the controversy was resolved, the firm said, it would not place any further orders with Mandarin.
The Gap spokesman emphasized that the company "wants this situation to come to a conclusion. We and our contractors must live up to the company's Code of Conduct."
Charles Kernaghan, NLC executive director, said the meeting was "cordial and serious."
The company, he said, "did not reject any of our points and indicated that they would consider them seriously."
"I think that if they accepted them and moved now, the company could be a leader in bringing justice to the workers in their contractors' plants."
The Gap officials, Kernaghan noted, "told us of the difficulties they faced in investigating the complaints, and we showed them how we could help them."
"For instance," he said, "a Gap official would visit the plant and ask the workers how things were. They, of course, would say that everything's OK. We asked them why anyone would say anything different if they knew that a complaint might result in the removal of the work from the factory and the end of their jobs.
"Whenever we would make a point, they would say that it was covered in their Code of Conduct. It was, but the workers didn't know about the code. And even if they saw one, they couldn't read it, because it wasn't in Spanish.
"The Gap agreed," he said, "to have the code translated into Spanish, so the workers could understand their rights.
"We are going to continue to work together with The Gap," Kernaghan said. "I really believe that closer contact with the company will result in a joint investigation of our charges. If that happens, I am sure that they will be resolved."
The NLC is continuing its campaign next week with a stop Monday and Tuesday in Los Angeles.

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