Zara uses slave labour in Argentina



The Spanish fashion brand Zara is outsourcing its production in Argentina to clandestine sweatshops employing immigrants under slave-like conditions.

Zara is responsible for the same illegal and inhuman methods of exploitation in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where it was fined millions for the same offence it has been accused of in eleven other countries.

The sweatshops in Argentina are based on the outskirts of Buenos Aires or in tourist areas with large numbers of immigrants from Bolivia, lured by traffickers promising wages in dollars, housing, food and an eight-hour working day.

But, as denounced by the NGO "La Alameda" and the Human Rights Secretariat of the CGT, the country’s largest trade union confederation, the working hours are inhuman.

The criminal charges filed on 26 March and 11 April of this year, which were backed up shortly afterwards by Buenos Aires City Government inspectors, are based on hidden camera recordings showing that the workers sleep in bunk beds right next to the machines and are made to work for over 13 hours a day, from Monday to Friday from seven in the morning to ten or eleven o’clock at night, and until midday on Saturdays.

Electrical cables were also shown to be hanging precariously, creating the risk of fire, such as that seen in 2006, in which six Bolivians, five of them minors, died, trapped inside a clandestine sweatshop.

Such conditions are not exceptional in Argentina or in other textile industries around the world.

La Alameda has taken legal proceedings against 110 major clothing brands, including international firms such as Puma and Topper, and employers themselves have recognised that 78 per cent of the clothing industry operates illegally.

The same system of people trafficking and slavery has been denounced in Mexico, in the so-called maquilas, in Italy, in the Camorra sweatshops, and in the factory collapsed in Bangladesh.

The three clandestine sweatshops producing garments for Zara in Argentina were shut down by the government for not being registered and posing high health and safety risks.

The justice system has not yet confirmed the charges, despite their having been verified by the video footage and the government inspectors.

The public prosecutor investigating Zara has not yet summoned the producer to give a statement, the sweatshops have not been searched and the telephone lines thought to connect the brand with the illegal workshops have not been tapped.

It is worth pointing out that Inditex, which owns Zara, is the second largest textile company in the world, and its owner, Amancio Ortega, has the third biggest fortune on the planet and is the richest person in Spain.

The lawsuit against Zara is registered under case number 3161/2013 and is being handled by federal court no. 7, by the young magistrate Sebastián Casanello. The investigation, however, is sitting in the hands of the public prosecutor Guillermo Marijuan.

In Argentina, Zara stands accused of servitude, based on persons being forced to work in excess of 12 hours a day and the restrictions on freedom derived from housing persons in their workplace, as well as of violating the legislation on home working, which makes outsourcers criminally liable and responsible for labour conditions in work places producing their goods, and the law on migrants, which proscribes profiting economically from undocumented persons.

Zara is able to audit its supply chain through Argentina’s state-run National Institute of Industrial Technology, but has never done so. The programme is practically free, but not compulsory.

Zara, defending itself through various media channels, has stated that internal audits have been conducted but violations have never been detected.

What else is to be expected when a company audits itself?

The footage filmed by La Alameda, embedded in this article and to the lawsuit filed, provides evidence of what the justice system is idling to confirm.

Social networks, press and media around the world have nevertheless given wide coverage to the abuses denounced by La Alameda.

From China to India, from England to Mexico, the slogan popularised by La Alameda, "EsclaviZara", linking Zara with slave labour, is travelling the world.