Byline: Mark Tosh

NEW YORK — Waving placards and chanting, “Shame on The Gap,” about 250 protesters stalled lunchtime business at Gap and Gap Kids stores on Herald Square here Friday, protesting the chain’s policy in El Salvador.
The demonstration, which lasted about two hours, condemned The Gap’s decision to withdraw its business from a factory in El Salvador because of worker abuses there instead of stepping in to improve conditions.
The protest was organized by the National Labor Committee, which first brought allegations of abuse at the El Salvador factory, called Mandarin International, to The Gap’s attention last summer, and the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, known as UNITE. The demonstration wrapped around the facades of the Gap stores, on the southeast side of 34th Street and Broadway.
Business at the stores returned to normal by 2:30 p.m.
Protest organizers said that by pulling out of the Mandarin factory last month, which put about 350 people out of work, The Gap sent a message to workers that their jobs could be in jeopardy if they speak out against abuses.
Organizers also said The Gap has moved the Salvadoran business to factories in Honduras, where workers are paid even less.
Responding to those allegations, The Gap issued a statement that it would return to the factory in El Salvador if certain conditions were met. Gap workers passed out the statement to the few shoppers inside the store. The statement said the chain “immediately suspended” orders to Mandarin once it heard allegations of worker abuse.
The Gap said it imposes a strict set of sourcing guidelines on its factories and has contracts with them “to insure that all our products are manufactured under appropriate conditions around the world [and], more importantly, that our partners operate ethically.”
Outside the Gap, protesters waved signs reading, “The real Gap Kids work 12-hour days” and there was a contingent from New York University brandishing “NYU against The Gap” signs.
“The Gap is getting the message loud and clear,” said Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Committee.
“People aren’t interested in buying clothing made by 15-year-olds working 21-hour days,” he added. “We’re not calling for a boycott, but we want The Gap to get the message.”
Kernaghan said the issue of child labor in foreign countries “is not a small problem” and many other U.S. companies are involved in exploiting child labor.
“We’re also putting pressure on other companies,” Kernaghan remarked, citing J.C. Penney Co., Eddie Bauer and J. Crew.
A spokesman for The Gap, who was present at the demonstration, said, “It’s their day to demonstrate and make their statement.” The spokesman declined to comment on how much of an impact the protest had on business.

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