Manhattan GAP becomes target to trade boycott dry-run
[TamilNet, Monday, 03 August 2009, 01:12 GMT]
About twenty protesters stood in front of the fashionable clothing store GAP located at 34th street and Broadway intersection in Manhattan, New York, Saturday afternoon carrying placards urging U.S. shoppers to stop buying goods made in Sri Lanka. Placards claimed that Sri Lanka is one of the worst human rights violator nations in recent history, slaughtering more than 20,000 civilians in April and May 2009, according to a reputable British broadsheet, and keeping more than 300,000 Tamil civilians in military supervised internment camps as collective punishment. Protesters said, by engaging in apparel trade with Sri Lanka, GAP is funding genocidal war against the Tamil people.
Even though a permit is not required for protests with less than 50 people, NY city police officers requested the group to inform the local precinct for community affairs ahead of time. As long as the pedestrians are not subject to difficulties and the businesses do not complain about the inconvenience to the shoppers, almost all US States allow small number of protesters to act without a permit. Malls are private property, and protests cannot be held inside the mall premises, according to protest organizers.
"We explained to the GAP management that the protesters encouraged the shoppers to shop at GAP, but requested that they refrain from buying clothing with Made-in-Sri Lanka label," one of the protest organizers, Siva Nathan, told TamilNet.
"Many young shoppers were horrified to learn that part of the money earned from garments sale funds the military that commits atrocities against the Tamils in Sri Lanka," he added.
The headquarters of the apparel giant is located in the San Francisco Bay Area but its product design offices are scattered through New York City, San Francisco and London. Gap owns 3,191 shops around the world, even though it distributes its products only in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Ireland and Japan.
Maheswaran, another activist involved in the planning of trade boycott in U.K., said "unlike Sudan, Zimbabwe or Myanmar, Sri Lanka is not an oil, minerals or gas rich state to be hiding behind China. As the recent knock on IMF's doors demonstrated, Sri Lanka's fragile economy is heavily dependent on exports. In April 2009, garments exports to US and EU earned US$ 206 million for Sri Lanka. Being a third of total foreign currency income, this market is of vital importance to the economic survival of Sri Lanka; it is second only to private remittances which totalled US$ 260 million for the month.
"Diaspora wrongly assumed that the West will intervene if States commit egragious rights violations against own citizens. The hard lesson we learnt was that unless diaspora demonstrates its latent power and strength in some way, West will not be interested in you. The European Union ignored all humanitarian concerns by extending the GSP+ preferential trade scheme, IMF loan with some symbolic abstentions was allowed to go through, and the West was unable to stop U.N. from crafting a resolution commending Sri Lanka's actions," Maheswaran added.
"Co-ordinated diaspora action can severely disrupt Sri Lanka's trade with the West. This new initiative of direct action targeting big name brands is focused on convincing the ethically aware consumers not to buy goods made in Sri Lanka.
"Many Sinhalese remain indifferent to their government's treatment of Tamils. We hope that the threat of losing their jobs may finally push most Sinhalese into taking some action to ensure that, at a minimum, 300,000 Tamils currently detained in camps are released at the earliest," Maheswaran said.
Gap is very much aware of the need to adhere to ethical business practices due to its earlier controversy in minimum wage disputes and underage labor practices in its global supply chain.
"This factor influenced the choice of GAP stores to launch the boycott campaign," Siva Nathan, a member of United States Tamils Political Action Council (USTPAC) a grass root non profit organization to promote freedom and justice for Tamils in Sri Lanka, said.