The plight of women garment workers in foreign lands is an issue U.S. apparel retailers cannot ignore. These women toil in dangerous working conditions for long hours, and for their hard work they receive little in pay. To make matters worse, most of these women don’t have a choice. They’ve been raised without the training and education necessary to seek work outside of the factories.
Gap is hoping to change that. The San Francisco-based apparel retailer is expanding the proprietary life skills training program it gives women garment workers overseas. P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement), launched in 2007, is a proprietary curriculum Gap developed with partners like CARE and the International Center for Research on Women. The program gives women garment workers access to a curriculum up to 80 hours long in nine areas, including communications skills, financial literacy, stress management, problem solving and decision making.
Eighty percent of garment workers globally are women, according to this Fortune article, and many work in countries where they were denied access to career training and advancement. This has led to a downward spiral in those countries where women are relegated to low-paying factory jobs.
“The people who are in the factories and make our products are critically important, and most of them are women,” Gap CEO Art Peck told Fortune in an exclusive interview at a Clinton Global Initiative event, where he announced the expansion of P.A.C.E. “The most sustainable program is one that has business benefits.”
In addition to the philanthropic benefits of P.A.C.E., Gap has seen higher retention rates at the vendors that supply it with its clothing.
To date, P.A.C.E. has been offered to 30,000 women in suppliers’ factories, but to reach Gap’s goal of getting 1 million women into the program, the retailer will expand it to other parts of the supply chain. In addition, Gap will broaden the curriculum, collaborate with nongovernment organizations and potentially bring in other corporations, including rivals in the apparel industry.
“There are many places in the world where women are denied access to opportunity, and education in particular,” Peck said. “We believe this is good for the business; we also believe it’s the right thing to do.”