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SAN FRANCISCO — Protesters seeking to push Gap Inc. executives to join the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh weren’t able to gain access to them at the company’s annual meeting Tuesday, but others with similar sentiments got well under the retailer’s skin via an Internet hoax.
This story first appeared in the May 21, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Within hours of the meeting at the company’s headquarters here, a parody Web site gapdoesmore.com — undoubtedly a play on the motto of the company’s late founder Don Fisher, “Do more than sell clothes” — released a professional-sounding statement on behalf of Gap Inc. titled “Gap Inc. Signs Bangladesh Accord.” The professional-looking site was replete with the logos of Gap’s six brands — Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Athleta, Piperlime and Intermix.
But the statement neither came from Gap nor had any connection to the company.
“Gap Inc. recently discovered a fraudulent website, http://www.gapdoesmore.com, and its accompanying social media property, @gapdoesmore,” a Gap spokeswoman said in an email to WWD. “These sites are not authorized by Gap Inc. or any of its brands. We are investigating the source of these fake digital properties.”
The bogus Web site, quickly disavowed by Gap’s communications operation, stated that the retailer, already a member of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, would also be signing the accord and would be paying individual workers in Bangladesh compensation. It even named the workers.
Lauding its heritage of corporate social responsibility and its dedication to “making a lasting difference in the world,” the hoax release went on to say, “We ask other brands and retailers to join with us in the accord to work together to prevent further terrible tragedies in Bangladesh. We are committed to compensating the families of those who have lost their lives and those injured in our supply chain. Just as we provided compensation following the That’s It Sportswear fire in December 2010, we will be providing $200,000 in compensation to those affected by the Aswad Composite Mills fire in October 2013….”
Elsewhere on the site, a letter purportedly from chairman and chief executive officer Glenn Murphy said Gap had notified the families of seven workers killed in the Aswad fire of Gap’s intent to provide the compensation.
Gap was a founding member of the alliance, but, like other members of the group, has not disclosed plans to sign the accord. At the annual meeting, there was no mention of any recent tension between Gap Inc.’s management and protesters pushing for the company to join the accord. Instead, Donald Fisher’s son Robert, a Gap director, struck a celebratory tone upon the company’s 45th anniversary.
But without entry to the meeting, protesters outside representing the International Labor Rights Forum, Jobs With Justice San Francisco, SumOfUs and United Students Against Sweatshops presented the Public Eye Award to Gap Inc.’s senior manager of public relations and communications Laura Wilkinson, who “accepted” at a side door on behalf of its intended recipient, Michelle Banks, executive vice president, corporate secretary and chief compliance officer of Gap.
Kung Feng, leader of Jobs With Justice, said, “I wear Gap clothes and I want to make sure that the people who make them don’t die at work.”
Feng said Wilkinson quietly listened to the protesters’ demands that Gap do what the bogus Web site claimed it had pledged to do — pay $200,000 in compensation to the Aswad victims and sign on to the accord — and respect the rights of workers in Cambodia who are striking for a $160-a-month wage. Cambodia’s government has detained 23 workers involved in the protests.
The Public Eye Award is presented to companies with what are deemed to be questionable CSR records, who are enshrined in a “Hall of Shame” by the groups.
The challenge to Gap’s attitude toward workers came as Susan Goss Brown, vice president of stores, informed shareholders at the meeting of Gap’s recent decision to increase the salaries of its 65,000 employees in the U.S. to a minimum of $9 an hour this June and then to $10 an hour in June 2015. It also follows the alliance’s posting on its Web site of the first set of inspection reports covering conditions in the Bangladesh apparel factories used by the alliance’s 26, mainly American members, including Gap, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and VF Corp. The reports were made public on the anniversary of the group’s formation, which followed the catastrophic collapse of Rana Plaza in April 2013.
Had the claims of Gap’s addition to the accord been true, it would be part of a very small group that participates in both groups. Fruit of the Loom is the only U.S.-based firm believed to be involved in both.
The motivation for the bogus press release and Web site remains in question.
The original, apparently bogus press release was sent to WWD from what appears to be an activist working for the labor group 18 Million Rising, or 18MR.
In the “from” line of the e-mail, the activist from the group indicated the press release was being sent “on behalf of Gap Inc.”
According to 18 Million Rising’s Web site, the group was founded to promote Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States by “leveraging the power of technology and social media.”
The organization, which advocates for what it says are 18 million “politically underorganized, underengaged and underrepresented constituencies” of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the U.S., said it is comprised of “activists, artists, organizations and digital media influencers, ranging from community-based organizations and print magazines to Asian-American blogs and YouTube channels.”
The gapdoesmore.com site provides a link to Gap’s corporate site, gapinc.com.
E-mails to 18 Million Rising and gapdoesmore.com seeking comment were not returned.