Long-time corporate responsibility champion Gap and jean-maker Levi Strauss have a Lesotho problem.
Both companies use the small southern African country as a manufacturing hub through work with a mutual Taiwanese supplier, Nien Hsing, bringing important investment to the region.
But now, the Sunday Times (U.K.) reports that Nien Hsing has been illegally dumping chemical and other waste near its factory; the refuse is often combed through by local children looking for sellable items at the landfill:
“Such is the ubiquity of denim and cotton waste in Lesotho that garment refuse has replaced charcoal as cooking fuel. Alarmingly, for the two San Francisco-based firms, the waste dumped by their suppliers Nien Hsing and Formosa Textile – both part of the Nien Hsing Fashion Group – includes harmful chemicals, needles and razors.
Each day it is painstakingly picked over by children and mothers with ailing infants strapped to their backs in a community ravaged by HIV. Not only that, but Nien Hsing is leaking chemical effluent into a river from which cooking water is drawn.”
The report continues:
“The children of the dumps begin their day by hauling such sacks to “work” and using them to collect scraps of cloth. Waste spilling from trucks includes countless pumice stones for stonewashed jeans, Gap zips and paperwork showing Gap orders to suppliers.”
At regular intervals the workers dumping the refuse set fire to it. The burning is particularly intense when heavily treated and dyed cotton and denim and polyurethane bags are set alight. Many children living and working around the Ha Tsotsane site are evidently suffering from respiratory problems and weeping eyes. Others speak of skin complaints.”
Gap and Levi Strauss feel terrible, of course. Gap quickly reaffirmed its “commitment to improving the lives of workers in Lesotho,” launching an investigation; Levi Strauss did the same, vowing “to address allegations.” Nien Hsing has been more defensive, denying the allegations and getting the lawyers involved.
Let’s get those supply chains in order! As Jon Bumasaka of the Lesotho Environmental Justice Advocacy Centre says: “These firms tell the world they are helping Africa but look around you – look at the children picking through dangerous waste in the dumps. Is this Bono’s African dream for Gap? Or is it a hell for the poor people who have to live next to these factories?”
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