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Gap Inc.’s PACE Program Reached 1 Million Women in 2021

When it’s deliver-or-die, supply chains become the lifeblood of a company. To that end, the fashion industry has embraced technology to navigate today’s hyper-complicated supply chain, with myriad solutions shaping the first, middle and last mile. Call it Sourcing 2.0.

With 97,000 employees around the globe and a massive reach, Gap Inc. has the potential to effect positive change. Through its Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic and Athleta brands, it can make business decisions that give back to communities, bolster employment opportunities and reduce its environmental footprint—and its Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (P.A.C.E.) program is proof.

Developed in 2007 to give women foundational life skills, technical training and support, the program reached its 2022 goal of reaching 1 million women and girls in the 17 countries where Gap Inc. makes its clothing.

This is just one of many achievements Gap Inc. highlighted in its 2021 Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) report, which was prepared in line with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards, the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB) Standards and the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

In September, the company published its 2020 sustainability report outlining its achievements, including its alignment with global initiatives like the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change. This year, it highlighted what it considers environmental and social wins.

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“In this report, we demonstrate our progress against clear and ambitious goals in three focus areas: empowering women, enabling opportunity, and enriching communities,” said Sonia Syngal, Gap Inc. CEO. “Our partnerships—across industries and governments, and alongside other signatories of the UN Global Compact—have enabled us to scale our impact.”

Women’s rights

In addition to its achievements with P.A.C.E., Gap Inc.’s partnership with USAID’s Women and Water Alliance also reached a milestone number: Through the program, 1.5 million people had better access to clean water and sanitation.

On a brand level, Old Navy introduced Bodequality in 2021 to offer each of its women’s styles in sizes 0-30 and XS-4X, with no price difference. Through the Power of She Fund, in partnership with the Women’s Sports Foundation, Athleta awarded 66 grants impacting more than 25,000 women and girls in 2021. The fund was launched in 2020 to provide women with support in areas including fostering multi-generational movement and connections, driving access to well-being resources and supporting athlete child care expenses. In 2021, the brand partnered with singer Alicia Keys on a collection generating awareness for the fund.

Creating opportunities

Last July, Gap Inc. published its first equality and belonging report summarizing its plans to end systemic racism within the organization and beyond. Currently, 26 percent of U.S. employees are Latinx, 17 percent are Black and 7 percent are Asian, and leadership at the store level is lagging: 17 percent are Latinx, 9 percent are Black and 3 percent are Asian. By taking note of these numbers, the company is able to expose gaps in representation and create opportunities accordingly.

In 2021, the company partnered with a number of organizations devoted to creating opportunities for vulnerable communities, including the Tent Partnership for Refugees, in which it committed to training and hiring Afghan refugees in the U.S. Other partnerships included Second Chance Business Coalition, an initiative that gives those with criminal records a fair chance to find work, and STARs, which provides work opportunities for people who developed valuable skills on the job through military service, in community college, or through other alternative routes.

Old Navy launched This Way Onward, a program that equips people from underrepresented communities with skills training to succeed in the workplace. It aims to provide 20,000 job opportunities by 2025, and has already seen 10,600 students graduate from the program.

In 2021, Athleta collaborated with Black female artists to create limited-edition products to further its commitment to empower and amplify the voices of BIPOC women and girls. Artists included Philadelphia-based Kendra Dandy, Tampa creator Melissa Koby and Phoenix-based artist and writer Morgan Harper Nichols.

Community

More than 30,000 Gap Inc. employees participated in volunteer work in 2021. In total, they devoted more than 266,000 hours of volunteer work and supported more than 3,000 nonprofit organizations. Gap Inc. also donated more than $1.3 million to charitable causes. In terms of circularity progress, Gap Inc. brands joined the Textile Exchange’s 2025 Recycled Polyester Challenge, which calls on apparel companies to increase the percentage of recycled polyester in the industry to 45 percent by 2025.

Old Navy’s sustainable denim initiatives reached new heights in 2021, with 96 percent of its denim assortment incorporating water-saving techniques. For the second consecutive year, Athleta partnered with resale platform ThredUp, generating 57,000 Clean Out Kits with 897,000 garments in 2021, bringing its total to 1.1 million garments since launch.

The Gap brand is aiding farmers in the transition away from conventional agricultural practices that use harmful pesticides and chemicals. In 2021, it provided training and procurement commitments during farmers’ three-year transition to certified organic farming.

Banana Republic has its own organic cotton initiative, and is working with Indian denim mill Arvind Limited and the Action for Social Advancement (ASA), a nonprofit organization that trains farmers on converting to organic practices. The brand is also focused on animal welfare, and aligned with The Responsible Wool Standard program, the Leather Working Group and the Good Cashmere Standard to more responsibly source and produce wool, leather and cashmere.

Looking ahead

Despite key achievements in 2021, the company has a long way to go. It has set aggressive targets for the future, many of which it’s on track to accomplish.

The effects of the global pandemic, particularly the high rate of women losing their jobs worldwide, drove Gap Inc. to double down on new commitments to foster women empowerment. It enhanced targets for its Empower@Work program, which was established in 2019 in partnership with labor organizations Business for Social Responsibility, ILO-IFC Better Work and CARE to share knowledge, skills and networks. The Gap and Athleta brands committed 100 percent of their factories to participating in Empower@Work by 2025.

With 68 percent of Gap Inc. business spend allocated to green-rated suppliers, the company is expected to achieve its 2025 target of 80 percent. By 2023, it’s also expected to provide 2 million people with access to drinking water and sanitation and work toward zero discharge of hazardous chemicals throughout its supply chain. By 2030, it will source 100 percent renewable energy for company-operated facilities globally and reduce Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions by 90 percent, and Scope 3 GHG emissions by 30 percent. It’s also on track to sustainably sourcing 100 percent of cotton by 2025.

Old Navy is expected to reach 20,000 youths and annually hire 5 percent of entry-level employees through its This Way Onward program. In 2021, 3 percent of entry-level store employees were recruited from the program.

On the other hand, some of Gap Inc.’s targets still need attention. By 2023, the company aims to have 100 percent of its Tier 1 facilities participating in industrywide efforts, including workers’ rights programs Social and Labor Convergence Program (SLCP) and/or ILO-IFC. By 2025, it aims to have 100 percent participation from its Tier 2 strategic mills. At the end of 2021, the company had a participation rate of 75 percent and 40 percent for its Tier 1 and Tier 2 partners, respectively. Its 2030 goal of eliminating all unnecessary and problematic plastic is still in the tracking stage.

“We know there is more work to do, and we are committed to growing our business in a way that protects the planet and supports healthy communities for generations to come. There has never been a more important moment for businesses to step up,” Syngal said. “It’s what our customers and communities expect of us—and it’s what we demand of ourselves as a values-led company with the power to shape peoples’ ways of life.”