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Sep092013

A decade of social responsibility reporting

Daniel Fibiger is Senior Manager of Strategy and Performance in Gap Inc.’s Social and Environmental Responsibility Department.

Gap Inc. launched its 2011-12 Social and Environmental Responsibility Report today, providing a detailed overview of our company’s efforts to respect human rights, protect the environment, invest in communities, and empower employees.

This is the sixth report we’ve released since we started doing so a decade ago.

And as the author of the report, the task of trying to summarize or highlight certain aspects of it is an unenviable one. Part of this might have to do with my background. I’ve been with the company for just over two years, and previously worked for several human rights NGOs, where I partnered with major apparel companies to address human rights issues in their supply chains. So when I try to think about what’s important, my answer is: all of it.

That partially explains why the report clocks in at more than 140 pages. Given the size of Gap Inc., the complexity of our supply chain, and our company’s commitment to respecting the rights of workers and minimizing our environmental impacts, the number of issues we seek to address is immense. Related to that, many of the issues we’re working on are systemic, global, and complicated – covering them meaningfully can’t be done with sound bites. That’s also one of the main reasons I was excited to take on this project.

Corporate social responsibility reports can be done in many different ways, but at Gap Inc., I saw two guiding principles that informed the company’s approach.

  • We partner. We seek extensive feedback on the content and coverage of key issues in our report from human rights and environmental sustainability experts. They include: The Public Reporting Working Group, comprised of individuals from NGOs and socially responsible investment firms. Ceres, one of the world’s foremost environmental NGOs, with deep expertise in private sector partnerships. And Shift, which is a leading non-governmental organization that works with governments, businesses, and stakeholders to put the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights into practice.
  • We address complexity. Publicly discussing the root causes of urgent social and environmental issues, and our strategies to address those issues, can help our industry identify solutions. In the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety article, for example, you’ll find a discussion of why we did not sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, why we helped found the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, and why we hope all parties can work together to create lasting, sustainable change for garment workers in Bangladesh.

In addition to those principles, our team also believes that reporting itself has a real impact on important issues. The process of reporting helps us educate, uncover insights, identify opportunities and risks, thus helping us figure out how to run our social and environmental programs more effectively.

And yet, while I’m proud of this report, I also believe this is a work in progress. My hope is that our next report has more focused goals, provides more comprehensive data-driven insights, and more effectively conveys the impact we are having. If we do those things well, we’ll also be able to make it shorter, which will hopefully lead more people to read it. The work starts now on delivering that.

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