It has come to the attention of the Brazilian authorities that Zara, the Spanish fashion chain and one of the largest in the world, has been using a contractor in São Paulo that was subjecting garment workers to sweatshop conditions. According to ‘The Guardian’ newspaper…”The Brazilian government has listed 52 charges against Inditex, Zara’s parent company, after it “rescued” 15 workers from a factory sub-contracted by AHA, the company responsible for 90% of Zara’s Brazilian production. Fourteen of the workers were Bolivians and one was from Peru. One was only 14 years old.”
Inditex released a statement saying that they can not be held accountable for “unauthorized outsourcing” but would compensate the workers because AHA had violated Inditex’s code of conduct. The response has not satisfied Brazilian authorities and they released a statement of their own by the lead prosecutor in the case. “AHA is a logistical extension of its main client, Zara Brasil,” said the prosecutor, Giuliana Cassiano Orlandi. “The company is responsible for its employees. Its raison d’être is making clothes and it follows that it must know who is producing its garments.”
Renato Bignami, who led the investigation, said the workers – who lived on the premises – worked 12-hour shifts in dangerous and unhealthy conditions. One Bolivian migrant worker stated that the labor component of a pair of Zara jeans selling at $126 (£76) was $1.14, which was divided between the seven people involved in the process. The workers earned between $156 and $290 a month. The minimum wage in Brazil is $344. The investigation began after unions reported last June that sweatshops in São Paulo were producing garments for Zara.
The following is a statement by lead investigator Renato Bignami: “They work 16 or even 18 hours a day,” he said. “It is extremely exhausting work, from Monday to Saturday, sometimes even Sunday depending on demand. I’ve seen workers who have taken home R$150-250 (£57-94) at the end of the month – after paying off housing debt, food debt, telephone card debt, debt [to people traffickers] for the journey here. Many have to work for three or four months to pay off the “coyotes” who have smuggled them into the country.” “These are classic cases of immigrant sweatshops,” Bignami said, adding that he had no doubt that such labor conditions characterized modern-day slavery. Workers often face “threats, coercion, physical violence. All this to increase productivity,” he added. To read the full article on ‘The Guardian’, published online on August 18th, 2011 please visit the following link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/18/zara-brazil-sweatshop-accusation
There have been some recent developments to this case since the accusations were first leveled at Zara.
Inditex, Zara’s parent company and the world’s largest clothes retailer, has said that the supplier has accepted full responsibility and that it was going to improve the subcontractors’ working conditions to bring them in line with those at facilities audited and approved by Inditex inspectors. According to the BBC, Inditex has approximately 50 suppliers in Brazil, which employ more than 7,000 workers. The company said it wanted to “foster the best conditions possible in the Brazilian textile industry”. The BBC also published that there are hundreds of factories in São Paulo state, producing garments for Brazil’s booming market and that recently the Brazilian authorities formed a special task force to locate and shut down sweatshops. To read the full article on ‘BBC News’, published online on August 18th, 2011 please visit the following link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-14570564
In a more recent article published online on August 26th, 2011 by ‘Just-Style’, Zara has said that it will consider appealing some $700,000 in possible fines stemming from the Brazilian Labor Ministry investigation into “slave labor” conditions at one of its suppliers, after insisting it wasn’t aware of the violations. According to the article, Pablo Sexto, spokesman for retail giant Inditex, which owns Zara, said the Labor Ministry is currently reviewing the case. However, if the company is fined or taken to trial, it will likely lodge an appeal as it disagrees with the Ministry’s view that it is responsible. In the wake of the findings, Brazil’s Labor Inspectorate said that even though the workshops were subcontracted, the responsibility of their working conditions rested with Zara. It added AHA has a close relationship with Zara in which it acts as a “logistics extension” to its local subsidiary Zara Brazil. However, the ministry said the firm had the right to appeal any fines that could be assessed in the case. To read the full article on ‘Just-Style’ please visit the following link: http://www.just-style.com/analysis/zara-denies-wrongdoing-in-brazil-sweatshop-row_id112016.aspx