As Myanmar rebuilds its economy, companies can help lead this effort through investments — both social and economic.
In the summer of 2014, Gap Inc. announced plans for substantial economic and social investments in the future of Myanmar. We sat down with Sonia Syngal, EVP, Global Supply Chain, Gap Inc. and Dotti Hatcher, Executive Director, Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. Global Initiatives, to learn more.
To start with the basics, why Myanmar and why now? What convinced Gap Inc. that this was the right time to invest in this country?
Sonia: Thanks. I’m happy to be here to discuss Gap Inc.’s decision to invest in the economic and social development of Myanmar. And let me also say that it is particularly fitting that I am here with Dotti today. I think the fact that our supply chain work is part of the same conversation as Dotti’s efforts to empower female garment workers says a lot about our company.
But back to your question about why Myanmar and why now. This is a historic moment for Myanmar. The country has always had an established garment industry. But as you probably know, the economy was closed off to most of the Western world for decades because of sanctions. Now that these economic restrictions have been lifted, we believe that Myanmar’s garment industry is poised to lead as a source of jobs and opportunity. And we want to be part of that. Gap Inc. will be the first American retailer to source in Myanmar, but we are excited to join other iconic American companies — like Coca-Cola and GE — in choosing to invest in the future of the country.
Dotti: I couldn’t have said it any better myself. We recognize that Gap Inc., and other responsible companies, will face challenges as Myanmar re-enters the global community and renews its commitment to democracy. However, we truly believe that the country has a unique opportunity to rebuild its economy and we think that companies like ours can help lead this effort through investments – both social and economic.
How exactly is Gap Inc. investing in Myanmar?
Sonia: So our investment comes in several parts. We will be sourcing products from two garment factories here in Myanmar. At Gap Inc., we believe that factories can only really succeed when their employees and the communities where they operate flourish. That means we have to work hand-in-hand with local partners, NGOs and government officials as well as international non-profits to make sure that we are living up to our founders’ promise to “do more than sell clothes.” And so we are doing just that in Myanmar.
Dotti: I’ve been working at this company for almost 30 years and I know that this promise is more than just words. While every country is different, Gap Inc. always enters countries with the best practices and lessons learned from over 44 years of making clothes.
Our social investments in Myanmar range from working with local and international NGOs and trade unions to make sure that our vendors provide their employees with a safe, healthy and fair workplace to focusing on the advancement, both personally and professionally, of women throughout Myanmar.
Tell me more about your social investments in Myanmar.
Sonia: At Gap Inc. we always want to focus on long-term solutions and not just quick fixes. We really want to contribute to systemic, positive change.
Focusing on sustainability is the cornerstone that guides us as we grow our business in a responsible, environmentally sound and ethical manner around the world.
Dotti: That’s right. Our focus is always on long-term and sustainable contributions. To that end, in Myanmar we are pleased to announce that we will deliver our award winning women’s advancement program, P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement), in the factories that will be making Gap Inc. branded apparel.
Our P.A.C.E. program provides female garment workers with the skills and training they need to advance in the workplace and improve their lives, and by extension, those of their families and their communities. We have implemented this program in seven countries and have had more than 25,000 female garment workers participate in the program.
We will partner with CARE International in Myanmar to launch this program in the factories in which we do business by the end of this year, and in other select communities where CARE is providing its programs.
And, with the help of our partners at USAID, Indiana University and Hewlett-Packard, we hope to extend this critically important work to women in multiple communities throughout Myanmar.
Sonia: And let me just say that having seen first-hand the success of the P.A.C.E. program, I couldn’t be prouder that we are going to bring our tried-and-true methods to Myanmar.
What is Gap Inc. doing to ensure the highest level of workplace safety standards in Myanmar?
Sonia: We are committed to applying industry-leading best practices and to doing our part to ensure that internationally recognized human rights and labor standards are upheld in the two factories we’re working with in Myanmar. We will work with the factories that make our clothing to make certain that they are managed responsibly and in accordance with our Code of Vendor Conduct. We also engaged an independent NGO to perform regular assessments of working conditions at the two factories as well as structural safety engineers and fire safety experts to ensure a safe working environment.
We continue to have a long-term commitment to improve workers’ well-being, the factories where they work and the garment industry as a whole.
Dotti: Yes, we are focused on the long-term. The P.A.C.E. program and our efforts with USAID are just a part of Gap Inc.’s commitment to the social growth and development of Myanmar.
Read about women in Burma, in this piece written by Melanne Verveer, former Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues at the U.S. State Department.