by: STEPHANIE OTT
The High Street fashion giant Zara is facing accusations of child labor and use of sweatshops in South America. This is not the first time the retailer has been confronted with such criticism. However, according to Inditex, the brand’s parent company, the workshops in question do not produce Zara apparel.
After a tip-off from the local workers’ rights group, La Alameda, Argentinean authorities moved in on three sweatshops on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. According to the group, they found immigrant workers, including children, mostly from Bolivia, who were working in poorly lit, unventilated workshops for meager wages and lived in cramped quarters.
“Our complaint was upheld by the inspectors themselves in the City Government,” Lucas Schaerer, spokesman for La Alameda said. “Zara manufactures in two clandestine textile workshops listed in our criminal complaint filed in the anti-trafficking prosecution (UFASE),” he added. They found men and children who lived in the place where they worked. The spokesman also claimed that the workers had no official documents and were held at the factories against their will and were not allowed to leave their workplaces without permission.
Gustavo Vera, a spokesman for the NGO, claimed the workers were made to start at 7 a.m. and work until 11 p.m. without breaks for six days a week.
Schaerer provided a video of the raid inside the workshops, which according to La Alameda, at least one of was producing clothing for Zara Men. “It’s Zara slaves producing clothes violating a national law, noting that outsourcing production is possible but labor standards were clearly violated in these cases by Zara,” he said.
In the video they report that La Alameda closed the factories where the clothing had been produced. It then goes on to talk about Ortega’s wealth and the profit he made in the fiscal year of 2012. The video also mentions that Zara has been accused of child labor and exploitation of migrants in other countries, with pictures of the alleged raids shown in the background. “Zara keeps exploiting migrants in many factories of the capital city [Buenos Aires],” the Argentinian organization claims. The video closes with, “We are still investigating.”
Schaerer said that on April 11, the organization posted a third video of the alleged Zara sweatshop raids which was recorded with a hidden camera.
“As far as Inditex is aware, the workshops in question do not produce products for Zara or any Inditex brands,” said Max McGahan, associate for Brunswick Group, Inditex’s public relations advisor. “Inditex has not been contacted either by La Alameda or the Argentinian authorities,” he added. McGahan emphasized that Inditex has a strong commitment to auditing factories and ensuring labor regulations are met.
Following the accusations, Inditex released this statement: “We are surprised by the allegations. Based on the limited information we have received so far, the workshops in question do not appear to have any relationship with our approved suppliers in Argentina. We are keen to work with La Alameda to understand the substance of their allegations.” The spokesman added that Inditex has a zero tolerance approach to any infringement of labor regulations.
Zara has 60 Argentine manufacturers and in the last two years conducted 300 audits of suppliers and factories. Zara is the flagship company of Inditex, which also owns brands like Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Pull & Bear and Stradivarius. Zara has 1,751 stores worldwide, including 45 in the U.S. The Spanish billionaire Amancio Ortega, 77, is the founder and majority-owner of Inditex. Forbes named Ortega the third-richest man in the world on its Billionaires list for 2013, with a net worth of $57 billion. The world’s largest clothing retailer, Inditex, has seen profits soar. The company’s net income totaled €2.3 billion ($3 billion) in 2012, which is an increase of 22% from 2011.
This is the second time within two years that Zara faced criticism for its workers allegedly toiling in sweatshops. In 2011, workers – 14 Bolivians and one Peruvian – were rescued from an unlicensed factory producing Zara clothing in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The immigrant workers were employed illegally by a subcontractor and lived in dangerous and unhygienic conditions, working long hours, according to the BBC. Zara later apologized in front of the Human Rights Commission in Sao Paulo and paid fines of approximately $530,000, as well as compensation to the workers.
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