With the Gap embarrassed this week by reports that Indian children as young as 10 were making Gap Kids clothing, a lot of people are asking, just how frequently and to what degree do large U.S. companies like Gap and Wal-Mart monitor their foreign manufacturers? According to Slate, “anywhere from six months to once every several years.” Unfortunately, because the visits are usually announced ahead of time, factories can hide violations, coach employees on what to say, get rid of the child workers, and forge records. In China, there are consultants who will prepare a factory for inspection, going so far as to fake missing records.
The Gap, Nike, and Levi Strauss actually have comparatively large inspection teams for U.S. companies, but “large” in this sense means about 90 inspectors for the Gap—the number of inspections-per-plant for the Gap in 2006 still worked out to about one every six months.
The current inspection process has only been around since the early to mid-90s, and clearly the current level of inspections aren’t working:
A forthcoming study from the Worker Rights Consortium examined 50 factories serving these top companies and found major problems at each location, like verbal abuse, lack of access to drinking water and bathrooms, and the inability for workers to organize. In 84 percent of those factories, workers didn’t understand how their salary was determined.