Zara pockets workers’ wages

Michelle Lum

This summer, as I browsed countless stores with my sister in search of the perfect dress or jacket, I never once paid attention to how those garments had ended up in my hands. While I mindlessly pushed aside shirts on racks and made my purchases at checkout counters, never once did I think about where they had come from, how they had been made or who had made them: the factory workers who had spent long hours behind sewing machines to produce what I was so easily taking for granted.

In early November, news came out that factory workers in Turkey were placing notes on clothing in Zara stores about their less than optimal working conditions. Messages left on Zara items spoke of how workers at Istanbul’s Bravo Tekstil factory, which had manufactured garments for clothing companies such as Zara, Next and Mango, had not been paid for their work and had been left without compensation after the factory unexpectedly shut down.

This seems to be one final, desperate plea for help from the factory workers, who were unpaid for more than a year after the factory’s owners abandoned the factory in July 2016. In conjunction with the Clean Clothes Campaign, 140 of the 155 workers also drafted a Change.org petition, which has garnered more than 295,000 signatures as of Dec. 5.

In response to the public outrage over the incident, Zara’s parent company, Inditex, attempted to make amends by explaining that it was in the process of creating a hardship fund to compensate the unpaid workers. Such action, however, comes much too late, and the amount of progress made is unknown. Additionally, the statement, in which Inditex claimed that it “has met all of its contractual obligations to Bravo Textil [sic],” appears to me as an attempt to shift the blame away from Inditex. Although it is mainly the owners who are at fault for the current situation, Inditex and the other fashion companies are partly to blame too. Having benefited from the workers’ sufferings, they should take some of the responsibility for the plight of these workers, instead of trying to shift the blame completely to the factory owners.

As someone who has shopped at Zara many times before, I’m shocked that the company has profited from such unethical practices. I’m also disappointed in myself for having spared no thought for the factory workers who have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of such companies. Zara, Next and Mango should not profit while their workers remain in such dire straits, and shoppers should not tolerate such cruelty.

In light of the exploitation of the Bravo factory workers, Inditex, Next and Mango should work to correct the current situation by compensating the workers. Meanwhile, shoppers should sign the workers’ petition and consider boycotting the companies’ products to place pressure on the companies to stop their business malpractices. As long as these companies do not right their wrongs, I for one will not be able to wear another one of their items without thinking of the hardships that those who have made them have endured. For now, I think I’ll shelve my Zara items until necessary action is taken on the companies’ parts.