The President Goes Shopping: What’s the Bigger Picture?

I hope President Obama was not trying to surprise his wife and daughters with the gifts he brought for them at the Gap when in New York earlier this week.

We all know the point wasn’t the gifts, but rather his desire to highlight the increase in wages that the Gap has committed to paying entry-level workers.  This certainly was a good thing to do.

It’s encouraging that some of the lowest paid workers will be getting a moderate increase.  A couple thoughts came to mind.  When I checked around, I discovered that our Catholic Charities agencies were already paying the increased new minimum to their entry-level staff and were also providing benefits (By no means did I do a comprehensive survey, but what I learned certainly corresponds to my experience).  Human service agencies, even while strapped for funds, do try to provide for their workers just as they do for those in need.

The other thought I had – and I admit I am more than a little focused on this after my recent trip to learn about the garment factories and their workers in Bangladesh – I only saw a small reference to the actual sources of the goods bought and sold in stores like the GAP.  What are the working conditions in the factories in China, Bangladesh and other places that produce these goods?  I can tell you that much progress has been made, yet much more progress is necessary to ensure safe working conditions in these factories.  We need to make sure that  American brands are part of the ongoing efforts to increase the safety and health conditions of these factories.

Good that the wages were increased.  And there are other issues both in the United States and elsewhere that need to be addressed regarding the international ready-made garment.  Let’s not lose sight of these other issues.

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