Corporate Social Responsibility at Gap: An Interview with Eva Sage-Gavin

By Wright, Patrick M. | Human Resource Planning, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Corporate Social Responsibility at Gap: An Interview with Eva Sage-Gavin


Wright, Patrick M., Human Resource Planning


Gap Inc. is one of the world's largest specialty retailers, with more than 3,000 stores and fiscal 2005 revenues of $16 billion. It operates four of the most recognized apparel brands in the world: Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, and Forth & Towne.

According to the company website:

   At Gap Inc., social responsibility isn't just a catchphrase or a
   feel-good initiative. It's a reflection of who we are and how
   we operate as a company. To us, being socially responsible
   means striving to embed our values and ethics into everything
   we do--from how we run our business, to how we treat our
   employees, to how we impact the communities where we do
   business.

In 2003 Gap Inc. was the first retailer to release a social responsibility report, offering a comprehensive overview of its approach to social responsibility. The report was broadly lauded for its willingness to be open and honest about both the successes and failures in this arena. Business Ethics magazine awarded the report its Social Reporting Award for "unprecedented honesty in reporting on factory conditions." Its 2004 Social Responsibility Report continued that discussion and provided new information on Gap Inc.'s progress, challenges, and new initiatives.

Eva Sage-Gavin (ESG) is Executive Vice President, Human Resources and Corporate Communications, of Gap Inc. In her role as chief people officer, she sets the strategy for the company's communications and HR operations worldwide, including staffing, diversity, rewards, recognition, employee benefits, learning and development, strategic change, and internal and external communications. She set aside time to provide more specifics as to how and why Gap Inc. places so much emphasis on corporate social responsibility.

PW: Thank you for spending time with me today to talk about the corporate social responsibility efforts at Gap Inc. To begin with a broad question, how exactly does Gap Inc. define corporate social responsibility? What levers do you use or what pieces of it would you use to describe how Gap Inc. approaches corporate social responsibility?

ESG: We think of corporate social responsibility across Gap Inc. in four strategic ways. The first one is this whole idea of sustainable solutions in our supply chain. This consists of working on a four-part strategy to improve working conditions, monitor factories, integrate labor standards into our business practices, and collaborating with outside partners to drive industry-wide change.

So that's the first big centerpiece of how we think about CSR. The second is with our employees and making Gap Inc. a place where people can flourish and build their careers in a positive work environment. The third is community involvement, including everything from our foundation to our volunteerism. The fourth key area in corporate social responsibility for us is environment, health, and safety: everything from the average store energy consumption to the safety of our stores for customers and employees to a high-level environmental impact assessment for all of our business operations.

We define it broadly, then. Supply chain, employees, community involvement, and environment.

PW: The next question is the "why" question. What's the source of the corporate social responsibility effort at Gap Inc.? Where did it all begin?

ESG: It began as a foundation of our company. Back in 1977, Don and Doris Fisher, our founders, established the Gap Foundation. Today all these years later their spirit lives on. Thirty-three million US dollars in cash and in-kind donations were contributed in 2004 to our foundation, and we have thousands of employee volunteer hours in our local communities every year. So for us this has been a long sustainable effort dating back to 1977. The other key source of our effort is global compliance. We see ourselves as a leading apparel retailer. For the record, Gap Inc.

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