Police warm protesters in front of the locked doors of the Gap store on Market Street.
The Gap, a San Francisco-based national clothing chain, was slammed with high-profile demonstrations on Saturday by activists protesting
its labor policies in the Mariana Islands and logging practices in Mendocino County.
Some 300 rallied to denounce the Gap at its Powell and Market flagship store. Eighteen were cited by police for infractions.
The San Francisco rally was among several across the country, including one in which activists marched up Manhattan's Fifth Avenue in the
rain, denouncing the Gap's use of sweatshop labor in its factory on Saipan.
"They (the Gap) are buying more from the island than anyone else," said Jason Mark of Global Exchange in San Francisco. "If we can
compel the industry leader to treat workers differently, our hope is that everyone else would follow. Now, they're not even paying the
federal minimum wage. It's not asking too much for them to pay that."
Medea Benjamin, co-director of Global Exchange, which has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Gap, said: "The anti-sweatshop
movement is calling on companies to pay a living wage, allow human rights groups into their factories and allow the workers to organize,
and the Gap is violating all three of those in hundreds of factories around the world."
The Gap did not respond to requests for comment.
The San Francisco demonstration took on a definite North Coast flavor with the addition of a group of environmental activists who
denounced the logging practices of Mendocino Redwood Co., which is financed by the Fisher family, which owns the Gap.
Mendocino Redwood bought 200,000 acres of mostly cut-over timber from Louisiana Pacific in 1998 and pledged to practice a more
environmentally benign style of logging than its predecessor.
In fact, said Beth Bosk of Albion, there has been virtually no change. "They said they were going to be kinder and gentler, but they're
worse than LP," she said. "In the last two years, LP had really gentled down - it was trying to get rid of the property."
What triggered Saturday's demonstration was Mendocino Redwoods' move on Feb. 18 to send a crew of timber fallers into the upper
Albion River drainage to log some big second-growth redwood and Douglas fir.
"There's not much old growth left, and now the Fishers are rushing out - a month before the logging season begins - to take the last of it,"
said former Mendocino County Supervisor Norman DeVall of the Redwood Coast Watersheds Alliance.
Other anti-Gap protests occurred in front of Northern California stores in Berkeley, Fresno, Santa Monica and Santa Barbara.
E MAGAZINE March/April 1999
Image vs. Reality The Family Behind Hip Clothier The Gap Logs the Redwoods
Critics charge that the supposedly "enlightened" Mendocino Redwood Company is employing many of the same environmentally destructive logging practices as its predecessor.
by Ellen Komp
Founded in ultra-hip 1969 San Francisco and named for the generational split that was then ravaging America, The Gap Inc. clothing empire has made billions selling once-egalitarian blue jeans as fashion items. Now some charge that The Gap's founder/owners, the Fisher family, are selling out their 1960s environmental ideals by logging some of the last vestiges of the California redwood forest.
The Fishers' Sansome investment group purchased 230,000 acres of Northern California coastal timberland from Louisiana-Pacific (LP) in July. It was the biggest timber deal since the 1986 corporate takeover of Pacific Lumber by Texas financier Charles Hurwitz of Maxxam. Local environmental activists were cautiously optimistic that the Fishers, who are worth an estimated $8 to 11 billion, would allow the overlogged lands to replenish themselves.
The Gap touts its chain as environmentally-conscious, building energy-efficient stores with "certified" woods and other environmentally-friendly materials. But so far the Fishers' Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC) hasn't impressed local groups with its promises to log "sustainably." "Currently, I don't see much difference between the old and new owners, except that die new owners are a bit better at public relations," says Mary Pjerrou, a writer and former schoolteacher who is president of the Redwood Coast Watersheds Alliance (RCWA) in Elk, California.
MRC has kept on much of LP's staff and is logging nearly as much as LP did, including making numerous clearcuts, many of them upstream from fragile habitats of threatened coho salmon and steelhead trout. The company is also spraying tan oaks with the herbicide Garlon, which is closely related to Agent Orange but supposedly safer. Sandy Dean, president of MRC, says the company uses herbicides in order to restore the conifer forest by reducing the number of tan oaks, which proliferate on overlogged lands. However, the job could be done manually by work crews at a slightly greater cost.
Dean points to MRC's less-invasive practices that lessen erosion, such as cable yarding and building rock roads, and to the company's support of fisheries and been looking into establishing third-party certification of MRC's operations since last May but, so far, has not had such oversight. In the meantime, RAN returned a gift The Gap donated for a fundraising auction.
Although MRC hasn't entered the two old-growth stands on its property, it has cut some of the scattered big trees in the path of its logging trucks, disregarding wildlife. MRC has eight timber harvest operations underway on Albion Creek, the only watershed with as much as 20 percent redwood forest. An MRC harvest plan with 606 acres of logging, including 418 acres of clearcutting and 6.7 miles of road construction, surrounds Elk Creek, where only 10 endangered coho salmon were found in 1995. The National Marine Fisheries Service has sent a letter to the California Department of Forestry, charging that the plan poses "a serious threat to survival of coho salmon in Elk Creek."
Activists charge that MRC, following LP's lead, is attempting to downgrade the creek from Class 1, where fish are present, to Class 11 (no existing fish), allowing the company to clearcut around it. Activists think a shell game/stall tactic is at play, with MRC Liking out as much timber as it can before word of its operations gets out. The company says it will continue logging during rainy winter, a practice which increases erosion and silting of streams. Pjerrou fears MRC's long-term plan is to denude the area of timber, parcel it out, and sell it as real estate. Dean denies that the company has plans to parcel any of the land, but the Fishers are longtime real estate developers, and have recently been involved in several large land deals in San Francisco.
A worldwide boycott has been called by RCWA and other groups against The Gap and its wholly owned subsidiaries, Banana Republic and Old Navy. Protests, organized quickly through the web site www.gapsucks.org, were held in at least 30 cities during the Christmas shopping season, with continuing weekly protests at the Gap's flagship Banana Republic store in San Francisco.
The Sierra Club is not supporting the boycott, according to Daniel Silverman, the club's press secretary, because The Gap itself is not actually logging. But the club did issue a press release urging members to write the Fisher family denouncing the kind of logging being done by MRC.
Many California activists hope that new Governor Gray Davis, the first Democrat in that office for 12 years, will beef up enforcement of environmental regulations at the California Department of Forestry and other agencies. But hope turned to alarm at the governor's choice of Barry Munitz, a former vice president of clearcutter and Headwaters despoiler Maxxam, to head his transition team.
If companies like MRC sell off their logged forest lands, can the redwoods regenerate? It's a long, slow process made more difficult by corporate cutting practices. Sixteen inches is now the standard diameter for felled redwoods, which can grow as big as 20 feet in diameter. Smaller trees don't have the rot-resistant properties of old-growth trees, and therefore are much less valuable. But if investors as rich as the Fishers can't resist logging today, will the mighty redwoods still be here tomorrow? CONTACT: Mendocino Redwood Company, PO Box 390, Calpella, CA 95418/(707)485-8731; Redwood Coastal Watershed Alliance, PO Box 90, Elk, CA 95432/(707)877-3405.