Creating a better future
The keynote address was delivered by Dan Henkle, Senior VP of Global Responsibility for clothing manufacturer Gap Inc. Now I have been to dozens of these type of events and you will usually see my eyes glaze over if I see another Al Gore chart, penguin or polar bear in a PowerPoint. Lucky for me and the audience Dan didn’t use any PowerPoint slides or recite climate change facts. His speech was a more personal story when he took on his current role in 2000 as the Senior VP for Global Responsibility.
At the time in late 2000 GAP was getting a lot of bad publicity they had just won the award of “Sweatshop Retailer of the Year” there were regular protests at head office and in stores (some of the protesters were also making a point by going fully naked!). It probably wasn’t the best time to take on the role at GAP.
Dan’s story was quite remarkable in that he begun to engage the community and it was in a meeting with social investors that he realised that there were some good stories to say. GAP had assumed that everyone knew about the extensive team of over 120 staff across 20 countries working in his team. It is in fact one of the largest in the world. It was the process of transparency, information sharing and probably more importantly his ability to get approval to publish a social responsibility report when things really started to happen.
The day the report was published in 2003 was to date the single biggest media day of the company’s history. The report was described by “Sweatshop Watch” as historic and was picked up by all the major media channels who immediately went on the front foot saying that “Gap admits to factory abuses”.
Dan went on to explain in detail the report in a number of interviews and after a while the message started to get through that Gap was openly admitting issues but was also working really hard to solve them.
Paul Pressier the President and CEO mentioned this time in the follow up report in 2004.
“In the days after we released our first social responsibility report last year, it wasn’t easy to see headlines like,
“Gap admits factory abuses.” But this was more than offset by positive responses from the media, employees and other stakeholders who told us how much they appreciated our candour – and how they wanted to work with us to address the challenges described in the report. Their response renewed our commitment to improving.”
So what was the final result of producing such a historic report? Well before the report over 50% of all news about Gap was negative. After the report this shifted to 87% positive. Also the focus moved from Gap to what Wallmart was doing and was probably one of the factors that pushed Wallmart to do the same and focus on sustainability.
Finally I would be interested to hear your thoughts and comments and wether you think that a report such as this could be regarded as "Histroic" and wether you would like to see more companies do the same.
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