LONDON — Clothing retailer Gap Inc. said Sunday that it will convene all of its Indian suppliers to "forcefully reiterate" its prohibition on child labor after a British newspaper found children as young as 10 making Gap clothes at a sweatshop in New Delhi.
The Observer newspaper quoted the children as saying they had been sold to the sweatshop by their families in Indian states such as Bihar and West Bengal and would not be allowed to leave until they had repaid that fee.
Some, working as long as 16 hours a day to hand-sew clothing, said they were not being paid because their employer said they were still trainees.
Gap said it first learned of the child labor allegations last week and discovered the sweatshop was being run by a subcontractor that a vendor had hired in violation of Gap's policies. The product made there will be destroyed so it cannot be sold in Gap stores, company spokesman Bill Chandler said.
"We appreciate that the media identified this subcontractor, and we acted swiftly in this situation," Chandler told The Associated Press on Sunday. "Under no circumstances is it acceptable for children to produce or work on garments."
The Observer quoted one boy identified only as Jivaj as saying that child employees who cried or did not work hard enough were hit with a rubber pipe or had oily cloths stuffed into their mouths.
The paper said the sweatshop, or "derelict industrial unit," that it found during its investigation in New Delhi was "smeared in filth, the corridors flowing with excrement from a flooded toilet."
The Observer printed a photograph of one of the child workers, and British Broadcasting Corp. television broadcast what it said was footage of the youngsters taken at the sweatshop by an unidentified German TV crew.
Gap did not immediately cut ties with the supplier it accused of improper subcontracting, but Chandler said the company was taking the breach of its child labor policies "extremely seriously."
"We're willing to end relationships with vendors when they don't meet our standards," he said.
The company requires its suppliers to guarantee that they will not use child labor to produce garments, Chandler said, and Gap stopped working with 23 factories last year over violations uncovered by its inspectors. The San Francisco-based company has 90 full-time inspectors who make unannounced visits around the world to ensure vendors are abiding by Gap's guidelines, he said.
Gap has about 2,000 suppliers worldwide, including about 200 in India, Chandler said.
The company plans to convene all of its suppliers in the India region at a summit in the coming weeks to "forcefully reiterate the prohibition on any child labor," he said.
Marka Hansen, president of Gap North America, said its prohibition of child labor is non-negotiable.
"While violations of our strict prohibition on child labor in factories that produce product for the company are extremely rare, we have called an urgent meeting with our suppliers in the region to reinforce our policies," Hansen said in a statement. "Gap Inc. has one of the industry's most comprehensive programs in place to fight for workers' rights overseas."
Besides its chain of Gap stores, the company also owns Old Navy and Banana Republic and operates more than 3,100 stores in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Ireland and Japan.