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.

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Consumers are not only willing and ready to trade in their gas-guzzling car for a Prius or Leaf they are also willing to trade in their Nikes for a pair of Toms. As stated in the previous blog, “Do CSR and ethical sourcing mater to consumers of textile products. More and more consumers are going green and forcing companies to follow suit.
Consumers are no longer concerned with the designer label of their favorite little black dress or the brand of their shoes. They are concerned with where their products come from, who sourced them and how are they making changes to go green. Going green is not only just a trend anymore it’s a life style. Even celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon.

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According to Verité.org, over 85% of the workers in the global apparel and footwear sectors are women.  In Mexico alone more than 4,500 foreign-owned assembly plants with low-tariff benefits employ some 1.3 million workers, 75 percent of them young women between the ages of 16 and 24.  In some not-so-unique cases these women are treated very poorly in the workplace.  One Mexican woman thought that being sexually harassed by both her supervisors and her peers was “just part of being a female working at the assembly plant.”  The full Verité Works Report, Advancing Women’s Rights and Social Responsibility: Capacity Building in Mexico is available here.

Such behavior is unacceptable.  Even more unacceptable is for the textile industry to continue ignoring such heinous acts against humanity.  The situation in the textile industry comes even more into focus when we consider that women make up 70% of the world’s poor, as per the International Labour Organization.  It is difficult for these women to climb out of poverty since they often earn less.  For example, the United Nations reports women wage earners in Sri Lanka earn 20% less per day than their male counterparts.

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