Guest blogged by Jaspreet Kaur
There has recently been a lot of stir in the Sikh community about the GAP’s new “Make Love” holiday campaign. The Gap used Waris Ahluwalia, a Sikh actor and designer, as a model for one of their promotional pictures. The response from the Sikh and non Sikh community was mixed and social media started buzzing with reactions to the image. A large add of this picture in New York City was recently vandalised and the Gap immediately responded by changing their twitter background to the image. Once again, the Sikh community responded, this time with more positive comments and support for the Gap.
What seems to have been forgotten in all this commotion is that the Gap is a multinational corporation that is only about their bottom line. They are about making money, not love. Their primary interest is to sell a product and by claiming to capture and commodify love, they are selling clothes. While the Gap is being praised for their quick response time and progressive thinking what is dismissed is the understanding that by the time a corporation uses an idea, it is no longer revolutionary. Gap would not have used a Sikh model if it hurt their bottom line. It is already acceptable and that is why the Gap can profit from displaying a turban and beard.
Waris Ahluwalia unabashedly supports this corporation, as is his prerogative. Sikhs are within their rights to follow in his footsteps but by virtue of the legacy of their activist Gurus they are obliged to be thoughtful and critical in doing so. Sikhs have never supported dominant regimes and in this historical moment where money is fluid across national boundaries and corporations have as much sway as governments, companies like the Gap are, without a doubt, the dominant power. You need to do no more that google “Gap human rights violations” to understand how poor working conditions are for those who produce the clothing that the Gap sells. For example, they were recently called out by the Institute of Global Labour and Human Rights for harsh working conditions in a Bangladesh factory where workers had to put in 15-17 hours a day and were having their wages unfairly cut. Unlike the overnight response to the vandalism of the advertisement, Gap’s response to the working conditions of these people was neither speedy nor effective.
Essentially, it would cost the Gap money to remedy their fundamental human rights violations and, as previously mentioned, the Gap is about making money, not love. There can be no bigger reminder of this than to observe the lack of response to violating working conditions in global south countries.
The make love campaign produced a beautiful image of a Sikh man in mainstream media that is positive and thought provoking. Their response to vandalism of this image has been immediate, compassionate and kind. However, a kind marketing branch of a human rights violating corporation is, simply put, nice capitalism. As Sikhs we have to think critically about how we position ourselves in this interesting conversation. If the dominant and oppressive system of the time gives us a kind nod, do we bow down and thank them? There has been a call to Sikhs to start wearing Gap clothing and support the Gap on social media outlets. How we live our lives, our purchasing practices, conversations, and consumption of goods are sites of politics and resistance. Every dollar we spend, word we say, and our choice of clothing shapes our beliefs and gives us an opportunity to live the Gurus message. So I ask then, what value to we put on the token gestures of Gap marketing when we know them to be hurting factory workers in inhumane ways. How do we use the message of our Guru’s to live as revolutionaries and see beyond the veil that capitalism pulls over our eyes.