Spanish fast-fashion retailer Zara, known for its affordable knockoffs of runway designs, has been accused of allegedly using slave labor in more than 30 of its outsourced plants in Brazil. On an episode of the investigative TV show, A Liga, reporters visited a factory where Bolivian immigrant garment workers were caught in “slave-like conditions,” according to Forbes on Wednesday. Zara, a subsidiary of Inditex, one of the world’s largest apparel distributors, is now under investigation by Brazil’s labor ministry, which is cracking down on slave labor in the logging, charcoal, and sugarcane industries.
In addition to unsafe work conditions—a fire extinguisher was found to have expired in 1998—a huge divide exists between a garment’s cost and the employees compensation. A pair of Zara jeans that sells for R$200 ($126 in American dollars), according to one Bolivian worker, has a working cost of R$1,80 ($1.14). That sum is divvied equally among the individuals involved in its production—seven people in all. Workers who labor no less than 12 hours per day make an average of R$900 ($569) per month.
Workers who labor no less than 12 hours per day make an average of R$900 ($569) per month.
Zara, once referred to by Daniel Piette, Louis Vuitton’s fashion director, as “possibly the most innovative and devastating retailers in the world,” produces an average of 11,000 distinct designs every year. Only 50 percent of their products is actually manufactured in Spain; 26 percent is produced in other parts of Europe, while another 24 percent is made in countries in Asia, Africa, and South America where labor is inevitably cheaper, like Brazil.
Although Amancio Ortega, the company’s founder and Spain’s richest man, recently stepped down from his post as chairman of Inditex last month, he still remains a large shareholder. In a statement today, Zara says that the accusations represent a “serious breach in accordance with the Code of Conduct for External Manufacturers and Workshops of Inditex,” adding that it’s asked factories responsible for illegal outsourcing to comply with company standards.
“The Inditex group, along with Brazil’s Ministry of Work,” a representative notes, “will strengthen the supervision of the production system of all its suppliers in the country to ensure that such cases do not occur again.” We’re keeping our fingers crossed.