Gap Inc. unveils China expansion plans - what does this mean for its CSR policy?

Last week, Gap unveiled plans to enter China with four Gap brand stores in full swing by the end of the year. The San Francisco-based company, parent to the Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy brands, said the move marks the start of a "long-term, multi-channel" strategy to cater to the rapidly growing consumer market in China.

Gap has set itself up for the huge challenge of enforcing its sustainability and social justice guarantees while operating in a country known to violate many of these same values.

In many ways, Gap's entry into China will be a force of good. If one subscribes to Adam Smith, than Gap's move exemplifies a wave of economic globalization that will release productive forces on a global scale and facilitate the optimum allocation of world resources- thereby increasing the wealth of the world as a whole.

However, the difficulty occurs when the respect for social equality that has become the legal foundation of western capitalism clashes with a country's right to sovereignty over internal affairs. Resentment when the economic might of western corporations subverts cultural values has already created backlash in the form of terrorism and other anti-western movements in many countries.

Gap will have to negotiate the values of freedom and equality that are integrated into the operations of its 3,100 western stores with the conflicting value that freedom, in an absolute sense, ignores people's survival and negates a country's flexibility to develop on the same path as many western countries. Critics of enforcing strict CSR codes profess that these codes deny the equal rights of developing countries to participate in the world economic system. In the sense of the "practical freedom" of Amartya Sen, to deprive developing countries of equal rights to development is to deprive the people of their practical freedom as well as their future economic success.

"After spending a lot of time listening to Chinese consumers and learning more about their shopping preferences, we're excited at the prospect of meeting their fashion needs," Gap Inc. Chief Executive Glenn Murphy said in a statement. Yet, it's going to be a lot more than fashion needs that Gap is going to have to meet.

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Join leading corporations in the field of CSR and ethical certification at Certification, Consumption and Change to discuss these and other crucial issues regarding the future of sustainability (London, September 29). For more information visit www.theinsource.com

Photo Credit: Flickr

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