Zara jeans…but #whomademyclothes

(*Please note, this is an assignment for the #whomademyclothes course on FutureLearn with Exeter University.)

My Zara jeans were bought in Cape Town in October 2017, on a whim. I found them as I was walking out the store empty handed. 10 minutes later, I had paid and made off with my latest jeans, which are still a favourite pair almost one year later.

They’re produced in Turkey and are 98% cotton and 2% elastane — according to the label anyway.

So, let’s unpack the fabric side first. 
The most common denim is indigo denim. The indigo dyeing process, in which the core of the warp threads remains white, creates denim’s signature fading characteristics. My jeans are starting to fade based on wear, and I love it, they feel like they have my stamp on them.

Denim is made from cotton which is harvested by hand or machine.
NB. my jeans are not organic cotton, just regular cotton which means pesticides have been used.

Elastane is a synthetic fabric known for its elasticity. Great for ensuring your jeans retain their shape. The more stretch you have in your jeans, the more elastane.

If you have a moment, watch RIVERBLUE which follows international river conservationist, Mark Angelo, as he travels around the world infiltrating one of the world’s most pollutive industries, fashion. This documentary examines the destruction of our rivers globally, its effect on humanity, and the solutions that inspire hope for a sustainable future. 
I urge you to watch this because the denim/jeans industry is the biggest polluting industry with dyes and chemicals to achieve certain stonewash and whiskered etc effects on the jeans.

So back to cotton and back to Turkey….

Research reveals that the cotton industry in Turkey has one of the highest rankings for child labor.

In 2016, Turkey made a moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. In cooperation with the ILO and other partners, the Government continued to implement a project that provided services to more than 1,000 children working in commercial hazelnut production. It adopted a regulation to improve provision of education and other services to children of mobile seasonal agricultural workers. In addition, security forces established and provided training for 33 new units that will focus on crimes against women and children, including child trafficking. However, children in Turkey perform dangerous tasks in mobile seasonal work in agriculture and in street work. The Government does not have laws that protect children working in agricultural enterprises employing fewer than 50 workers.”
57.1 percent of children working in Turkey are in the agriculture sector. —

What is Zara’s stance on this? Zara has signed the Uzbek Cotton Pledge
We, the undersigned companies are working to ensure that forced labor does not find its way into our products. We are aware of reports documenting the systemic use of forced labor in the harvest of cotton in Uzbekistan. We are collaborating with a multi-stakeholder coalition to raise awareness of this very serious concern, and press for its elimination.”

So brands are taking a stand but is it enough?

Moving on to the people…

The holding company for Zara is Inditex 
Wikipedia says : “World’s largest fashion group. Operates over 5000 stores, most of which are company owned. Most sales occur in Europe under eight different banners including Zara. The group designs and manufactures almost everything by itself. 50% of the products Zara sells are manufactured in Spain, 26% in the rest of Europe, and 24% in Asian and African countries and the rest of the world. Spain’s richest man, Amancio Ortega, founded Zara in 1975 and later created Inditex as a holding company.”

So we’re obviously dealing with a credible company here, friends.
And with corporates, somethings are done well (Uzbek Cotton Pledge, child labour scorecard, efforst to pay a living wage etc) and deserve praise, and some things need to be worked on (cotton sourcing). —

Back to Wikipedia…what does it say about Zara and child labor?
In 2016, BBC Newsstated that they found evidence for child labour and exploitation in factories in Turkey. Zara replied that there were some issues in June 2016 in one single factory and — instead of solving these ‘issues’ immediately -, they have given a period of six months to solve them [52]. —


When I started to research child labor in Turkey, it pulled up several articles about unpaid garment workers slipping tags into Zara clothes saying they were never paid for the production of these items. 
The factory they worked at producing clothes for Zara (and Mango and Next) closed without paying them in 2016 and in 2017, out of desperation, they took action.

Click here to see interviews with the garment workers and to understand their desperation —

Initially when I read up on this, I thought the factory owner should take full responsibility, however…if Inditex (Zara) has such a firm stance on people receiving a living wage, having an ethical supply chain, and they did go on to actually sell these garments and profit, they are responsible to a certain extent. These garment workers are begging to be paid for work they did. And they did it in a way to make their voices heard with the public (and media) as liaising directly with the brands did not yield a result.

However, further research led me to Good on You website.
The 2018 Ethical Fashion Report– which looks at criteria including payment of a living wage, transparency and worker empowerment initiatives — Zara scored an A+in policies, auditing and supplier relations, an A for knowing its suppliers, and a B for worker empowerment.

Suppliers and manufacturer partners with Inditex are required to follow their Code of Conduct, and their traceability systems allow them to know exactly how their products are made, and where they come from. Inditex also states it has a total ban on child labour, forbidding any employees under the age of 16 to work in their factories, as well as a ban on forced labour and discrimination in the workplace.

So is the issue with the unpaid Turkey factory workers an isolated incident in terms of suppliers and manufacturing partners? Did they not look into this supplier properly? Was he credible when he started working with Zara and the wheels came off?

How does Zara rate in the Fashion Revolution Fashion Transparency Index? (screengrabs included so you can see which other brands rated in the same group as Zara on these elements)

  • Transparency — 42%
  • Policy and commitments: Zara — 88%
  • Governance — 62%
  • Traceablity — 13%
  • Know, show and fix appraoch — 38%
  • Women, workers and waste spotlight — 53%


I do believe the cotton for my jeans was harvested by a child.
I do however believe that my jeans were made up by a garment worker who is not a child and earning a living wage. 
I can only hope that I’m wrong on the first point and correct on the latter.