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GAP (Not) For Kids

GAP (Not) For Kids

September 8, 2007 —

Gap Heir Apparent Stiffs the Kids

John J. Fisher, son of the Gap Inc. founder and Gap’s heir apparent, took Gap into new ethically troublesome waters by helping to defeat California’s Proposition 82. The proposition, which appeared on the June 2006 ballot, would have guaranteed all 4-year-olds the opportunity to voluntarily attend pre-school. According to a San Francisco Chronicle article appearing in April 2006, 80 percent of children from high income families attend preschool—compared to less than half of kids from low income homes.

The measure received less than 40 percent of the vote.

Why would the Gap heir oppose this opportunity? It comes down to the issue of taxes. As a matter of record, John Fisher contributed $25,000 to a Proposition 82 opposition group. Gap Inc. is a member of the California Business Roundtable, also against the preschool initiative. Opponents of Proposition 82 said the measure would subsidize parents who already pay for private preschool and create another costly state mandate in a school system that needs other reforms.

The Responsibility of Wealth

The tax price tag for the preschool program would have been $2.4 billion, raised by a 1.7% tax increase for California’s most wealthy 1 percent: individuals making over $400,000 and couples making over $800,000. This has caused some serious tax rebellion among this wealth class, including well known film maker Rob Reiner.

Prop. 82 opponents said that universal preschool is not as desirable as proponents hope; unfair to single out one segment of the population for tax increases, and that a more effective approach would be to target low-income children.

But here's the ethical debate: Do the wealthy have a greater responsibility—because they have a greater opportunity—to assist in the public good? This is an intense, continuous debate, and for consumers who are buying with a conscience it gives rise to the ethical decision of buying from companies or shareholders that actively oppose what appear to be wise, truly beneficial public programs, especially for kids. Do you want to walk into Gap and buy pants for your children knowing the owners, despite their nuanced arguments, are against your neighborhood kids having a fair shot at preschool?

California assemblywoman Wilma Chan, who has championed preschool in the state legislature, has stated: “We've all shopped there [the Gap] for our kids or our grandkids. I just think it's ironic that when you're making money off these babies that you won't support something that's going to be so good for them in terms of their future.”

Supporters of the preschool program have attempted to bring Gap’s double standards out from under the rocks with a campaign called Expose the Gap with protests in April 2006 at the stores. A spokesperson for Gap said the protesters were mistaken in thinking Gap had taken a stand (they neither opposed or supported Prop 82) and that the Gap owners had a right to their own political agendas.

Is Neutrality Enough?

But is that enough? Is it enough for us as consumers to write off Gap as being neutral in this tax/social issue and continue to shop there, knowing there is no active support for a vital developmental program? Gap offers a great selection of apparel and it has the cool aura of a trendy shop, but there are many other smaller or comparable retailers who support virtuous state initiatives and whose owners/shareholders won’t lament a microscopically smaller slice of the pie.

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