Retail Giant Zara Accused Of Age Old Practice Of Slave Labor

Just a little reminder for us to think about where our clothes come from. Spanish retailer Zara has been accused of child labor and violating fair labor practices by Brazil’s Ministry of Labour and Employment. According to the agency, 52 workers in one of the company’s São Paulo factories were being held in “slave-like” conditions, and at least one underage girl was found working there, violating child labor laws. Workers were required to work 16-hour shifts in windowless factories, and were paid significantly below Brazil’s minimum wage, earning between $170 to $286 a month. As a result of Brazil’s several months’ long investigation, Zara’s been charged with 52 infractions.

Notes the Brazilian fiscal auditor, Zara “should be responsible for all of its suppliers, and it is a duty of the company to be aware of how its merchandise is being produced.” But that’s often not the case. And when retailers fail to follow the long tail of their supply chain down to their factory workers, everyone loses. Zara is hardly the only offender. In 2007, Topshop came under fire for using what amounted to slave labor in Mauritius to produce its line of pricey high street fashions. And more recently Target, Walmart and Macy’s have been pressured to stop using a factory in Jordan where incidences of sexual abuse are common. These large corporations often claim that they’re unaware of the labor practices in their factories, but shouldn’t they be? After all, they profit directly off of what their factory workers do. And to a large extent, we benefit as consumers when corporate retailers turn a blind eye to what’s happening in their factories. Slave labor and unfair labor practices often translates directly to cheap price tags for consumers.

There are some organizations advocating on behalf of workers. Social Accountability International is a nonprofit organization that developed a series of standards for fair labor. Their SA8000 certification–which is as of now still a voluntary certification program–offers a method of auditing factories for fair trade labor practices that protect workers. And the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights

But what about Zara? Inditex, Zara’s parent company, denied any knowledge of the working conditions in its São Paulo factory, and in fact issued a statement claiming, “This case constitutes a grave infringement of the Inditex Code of Conduct for External Manufacturers and Workshops, a code with which this supplier was contractually obligated to comply with. The Code of Conduct stipulates the requirements with which all suppliers, whether direct or subcontracted, must comply, and aims to safeguard workers’ rights to the fullest extent.”

Which is a start. But it makes you wonder if Zara would care if they — like so many other retail chains — hadn’t gotten caught.

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