New Delhi: US-based clothing retail chain Gap has recalled some of its clothes made in India after discovering that children had been involved in making them.
Gap, which intended to sell the garments for Christmas at the popular GapKids branches in the US and Europe, has pulled the order completely.
In an investigative operation, British newspaper The Observer discovered that children as young as 10-13 were making clothes for Gap in filthy conditions, in a derelict building in Shahpur Jat, Delhi.
The Observer quoted the children as saying that they had been sold to the sweatshop in Delhi by their families.
The children, some of who worked for as long as 16 hours a day sewing clothes by hand, said they hailed from Bihar and West Bengal. They added that they were not being paid because their employer said they were still trainees; nor would they be allowed to leave till they could repay the amount for which they were bought from their families.
When contacted, Gap gave the official statement that the sweatshop was being run by a sub-contractor. This is a violation of Gap's policies, said the fashion giant.
Gap spokesman Bill Chandler was vocal in his thanks to the media.
"We appreciate that the media identified this sub-contractor and we acted swiftly in this situation," he told the Associated Press. "Under no circumstances is it acceptable for children to produce or work on garments," he added.
Correctness-conscious America is very strict about the use of child labour.
The Observer also quoted one boy, Jivaj, who said that child employees who cried or did not work hard enough were struck with rubber pipes or had oily cloths stuffed into their mouths.
The sweatshop, the paper reported, was "smeared in filth, the corridors flowing with excrement from a flooded toilet".
Gap's official statement declared that an Indian vendor illegally sub-contracted work for an item of the GapKids line "in direct violation of our agreement".
The order in question was immediately stopped and the stock destroyed as soon as GAP was alerted to the situation, the statement said.
Although Gap has not cut ties with the supplier it accused of unauthorised sub-contracting, according to Chandler, the company was taking the breach of its child labour policy very seriously.
''We're willing to end relationships with vendors when they don't meet our standards,'' he said, explaining that the company requires that its suppliers guarantee they would eschew child labour to produce garments.
Last year, Gap stopped working with 23 factories because of violations revealed by its inspectors. The company employs 93 inspectors who conduct random, unannounced inspections at 2,300 factories
"The company plans to convene all of its suppliers in the Indian region at a summit in the coming weeks to forcefully reiterate the prohibition on any child labour," Chandler said.
Meanwhile, though Gap lost no time in beginning its own investigations of the matter, it has also been quick to quash speculations of pulling out its operations from India.
The head of Gap's North American operations, Marka Hansen, said that most of the Indian vendors fall in with Gap policies and have worked with the company for 15 years.
"I think for us to pull our business out of there would undermine the economy as well," she said on the American TV programme Good Morning America.
(With inputs from the Associated Press)