EUREKA - About 40 activists went to Bayshore Mall to protest the Gap Inc. and test a U.S. Supreme Court decision Saturday morning.
Saying that Gap uses sweatshop labor and the company's owners are violating logging practices in Mendocino County, the group marched around the parking lot, leafleted, sang, and danced during their more than two-hour visit. A smaller group also passed out information inside the mall in front of Gap and Gap Kids and the Gap-owned Old Navy store.
The activists came from a coalition of members from Direct Action Network, Student Environmental Action Coalition, and United Steelworkers of America.
"Gap executives make up to $24,000 an hour. The Gap can afford to pay more than 35 cents per hour to their workers in Honduras," said Mary Bull of San Francisco, national coordinator of the Save the Redwoods/Boycott the Gap Campaign. The Don and Doris Fisher family of San Francisco, owner of the Gap, is also harming the environment with its logging practices on 235,000 acres of Mendocino forestland purchased from Louisiana-Pacific Corp. in 1998, she said. The family started the Mendocino Redwood Co., the land's current owner.
Some protesters donned cardboard boxes with large letters on them that sometimes spelled "Gap Sweatshops". They parodied the song "I Just Can't Get Enough", used in Gap commercials, by singing "Gap Can't Get Enough ... Money!" while dancing to the song in front of Bayshore Mall's main entrance and food court.
Gap Inc. corporate communications official Allen Marks, interviewed by phone from San Francisco, said the company has a stringent code of vendor conduct that all companies doing business with Gap must abide by.
"We have over 60 full-Lime employees worldwide whose sole responsibility is monitoring compliance with the code of conduct." he said, adding that the company also uses independent and external monitoring.
"My code does require that vendors pay the local minimum wage and that they're being paid accurately," Marks said.
Marks also said Gap Inc. has no affiliation with the Mendocino Redwood Co. but that Gap founders Don and Doris Fisher are investors. Representatives from the Lumber company could not be reached Saturday evening.
Eureka police Capt. Bill Honsal and mall security guards initially told the protesters that they would be arrested if they continued to hand out information in front of the entrance, and asked them to move to the public sidewalk on Broadway. But after the activists repeatedly said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled they do have the right to protest on private mall property in California and attempted to give Honsal a partial printout of the opinion, no arrests were made and protesters continued to hand out information inside and outside the mall.
In their 1980 opinion on Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, the court affirmed a state supreme court ruling that the state constitution protects 11 speech and petitioning, reasonably exercised, in shopping centers even when the centers are privately owned."
Justice William Rehnquist cited court decisions that stated "Neither property nor contract rights are absolute ... Equally fundamental with the private right is that of the public to regulate it in the common interest ... " and that a state may grant greater free speech and petition rights than those in the U.S. Constitution.
Mall operations manager Dell Hawkins, however, said citizens can set up tables and distribute information inside if they arrange it with mall management and that many groups take advantage of that opportunity. He objected to the protester's presence outside the main entrance and said it was unreasonable.
"Our customers come in here," he added, "they just want to shop."
"As long as they're not blocking doors or entrances and interfering with business, they have a right to protest," said Eureka police Chief Arnie Millsap. "But other people have a right to be free of it."
Millsap, who monitored part of the protest in person, also said activists do have access to inside the mall "to some degree, but they need to work it out with the owners.