Corporate Ethics and Consumer Responsibility
My hometown contains several strip malls, one of which holds a Gap and an antique store side-by-side (I know, this is a weird combination). I stopped into the Gap to use a coupon I'd received and was lazily browsing when I got the urgent need to use the restroom. I asked one of the store’s sales clerks if I could use theirs, and she stiffly replied, “Our restrooms are for employees only. You’ll have to go across the street to Wendy’s. That’s the closest one.”
I stared at her, taken aback by her abrupt demeanor. Ultimately, however, I had no choice but to nod my head and leave the store. Just as I did so, something in the antique shop’s display window caught my attention. I debated for only a moment as to whether or not to go inside before deciding I could quickly check that item’s price and then dart over to Wendy’s.
Inside the antique store, I began idly chatting with the owner. When our chat became too extended for my bladder, I begged his forgiveness and said, “I have to use the restroom over at Wendy’s. I’ll be right back.”
“I have a restroom just down the hall you can use,” he replied. Surprised the sales clerk at Gap hadn’t told me of that, I thanked him and did my business. After I had walked back out, I told him about the scene at Gap, where they had told me the nearest restroom was across the street. And that’s when our conversation became very interesting.
“Yeah, those girls over there are pretty snotty,” he said. “Why they act the way they do is beyond me. I mean, they’re sales clerks at one of the worst stores in America. Gap has been shut down in like 10 different countries for violating child labor laws. They were investigated again in 2009 for their practices in India. So I have no idea why the workers in this store behave the way they do. Gap is one of the worst functioning companies in this country.”
I was astounded by his allegations, because I had no idea Gap was anything less than a stand-up company. But, with a little research, I discovered the antique store owner was right. From a CBS news article dated February 11, 2009, I learned the following:
“Britain's Observer newspaper reported [in 2009] that it had found children making clothes with Gap labels in a squalid factory in New Delhi. It quoted the children as saying they were from poor parts of India and had been sold to the sweatshop by their impoverished families. Some said they were not paid for their work.”
Apparently, the company has since improved its practices and conducted several of its own investigations into the practices of its overseas factories. I’ve shopped at the Gap for years, even during that time when the store was under fire for its child labor misconduct, and I had never been the wiser.
Am I a socially irresponsible consumer? It certainly seems that way right now.
A growing number of people are becoming more concerned with corporate ethics and “made in” labels on products like furniture, televisions, and clothing. This boils down to the fact that Americans are becoming more conscientious about what they buy. As of yet, I must confess I haven’t become quite so diligent. Sadly, I usually shop where I can get the most bang for my buck. And, in my hometown, this means Walmart, which, to me, is the very worst example of corporate dominance.
This box store reported a net income of more than $11 billion in 2012, but reports of unethical work practices persist. Examples of these include wage law violations, lack of employee health care, and worker exploitation. Moreover, approximately 17 lawsuits are filed against Walmart every day. That alone pretty much identifies what kind of employer this place is.
In light of this information, as well as that of the Gap, I believe it may be time to join the growing legions of people who want to do good for their country rather than their own pockets. I definitely need to become more aware of labels and workplace practices before I choose to spend my hard-earned money in a larger retailer. I don’t want to promote policies that dismiss the needs of workers and give huge chunks of cash to cavalier companies.