You can't make this stuff up, folks. President Karimov envisions 2010 as the year of the "Harmoniously Developed Generation," and has signed a package of instructions to his government to bring this about. I wonder if harmonious development includes a few months hard labor in his cotton fields?
The decree stipulates:
cardinal improvement of the quality of education in schools, professional colleges, lyceums and universities through wide introduction of the new information and communication technologies, providing educational establishments with the modern educational and laboratory equipment and computers, as well as stimulation of the teachers and tutors;
expansion of measures to raise healthy generation, including the “Healthy mother – healthy child” program, improvement of the system of protection of reproductive health of mothers, children and teenagers, development of preventive healthcare;
As Uzbek analyst Sanjar Saidov has noted, these programs are largely if not wholly propaganda exercises. Last year, after all, was the year of Rural Development and Well-being (!). But since the realities of life for most of Uzbekistan's young people are so wildly removed from the puffery of such decrees, does no one in the regime worry that they might make people more cynical, more angry?
Gymboree is flaunting its charitable bona fides to customers, spreading news of its contributions to St. Judes Children's Hospital. Never mind the Uzbek children crippled picking the cotton for its clothes have no access to plausible (or any) health care...
Matt McCauley just doesn't seem to get it. More on that soon.
It's interesting that Gymboree feels at least a tiny obligation to respond to the query I sent upon receiving word of its charitable leanings:
Date: 1/4/2010 4:34:58 PM
Subject: Fw: Happy New Year From Our Chairman & CEO [#144624]
Dear Mr. McCauley,
Support for a children's hospital in no way excuses the misery your corporation is bringing to the children of Uzbekistan , forced by their authoritarian government to pick the cotton that goes into Gymboree clothes.
You have been contacted several times by the International Labor Rights Forum, asking you to pledge, as many other corporations (Gap, J. Crew, Walmart) have, to exclude Uzbek cotton from your supply chain. Why have you not responded?
If in 2010 you pledge to become part of the solution for Uzbekistan 's exploited children, instead of part of the problem, I can go back to purchasing Gym Mart's clothes for my small daughters. When I look at them, I often think of their age-mates in Uzbekistan , missing school from September to December, and there's no way we can support a company that inflicts this upon them.
Some customer service drone at Gymboree finally sent of a formulaic response to my queries about its Uzbekistan policy (see the email below). Though Eric talks of "minimum standards" that vendors have to meet, he refuses to answer the question--do they use Uzbek cotton? Sounds like Gym Mart brands doesn't know...and doesn't want to find out. In which case, their "minimum standards" don't mean a thing.
RE: Happy New Year From Our Chairman & CEOTue, January 5, 2010 12:49:56 PM
From:"Gym Orders email@example.com" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Add to ContactsTo:email@example.com Dear Cassandra,
Thank you for contacting Gymboree Customer Service.
As we research prospective vendors and factories, we select companies that make compliance with laws and labor standards a top priority and whose policies and practices are consistent with our corporate mission to celebrate childhood. Gymboree does not allow forced child labor anywhere in the organization, nor anywhere in the supply chain. For all factories or vendors that we work with, we set forth the minimum standards and ethical requirements that they must comply with in order to conduct business with Gymboree.
As a condition of doing business with Gymboree, we require each factory and vendor to sign a product purchase agreement as a commitment that it will adhere to our Terms. Specifically, our Terms require, among other things, full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations including, but not limited to, environmental, wage and hour, and worker health laws, and the child labor, minimum wage and overtime requirements of those laws. All factories and vendors must also certify, among other things, that goods will not be produced with any use of child, forced, or prison labor, and that all employees will be provided with safe, clean working conditions.
Additionally, for many years now, Gymboree has used a reputable, independent auditing firm to evaluate factories prior to engagement and to routinely perform on-site inspections in order to actively monitor and assess factory operations to ensure compliance.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact us and for giving us the opportunity to provide you with information regarding Gymboree’s production standards and practices.
Gymboree Customer Service
877 449 6932
This last email has gone unanswered for a few weeks now, which tells us all we need to know about the seriousness of Gymboree's pledges. If they won't come out, either publicly or privately, specifically rejecting Uzbek cotton, all protestations are pretty meaningless.
Re: Happy New Year From Our Chairman & CEO
Tue, January 5, 2010 1:26:15 PMFrom:Cassandra Cavanaugh <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Add to Contacts
This is nice, Eric, but it doesn't address the issue I brought to your attention. Your factories, by which I assume you mean the factories that cut and sew the final product, or produce piece goods, might well be in compliance with local labor laws and your auditor may well have certified this. However, they are probably receiving yarn or cloth that includes cotton produced in Uzbekistan by forced child labor--that is, unless you have investigated the supply chain down to the primary commodity level and can certify otherwise.