Zara Promises Sustainability, But What About Its Garment Workers?

ilana winterstein

Last week, Zara publicly announced that all of its clothes will be made from 100% sustainable fabrics by 2025. This is a media win for the brand, coming at a point where conscious consumerism is at a peak and environmental issues are creating headlines daily. However, what does this drive towards sustainability mean for Zara’s garment workers?

Bangladeshi garment workers. Photograph by Heather Stilwell.

Zara is owned by Inditex, the third largest clothing company in the world. Inditexalso own seven other high street fashion brands including Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti and Berksha, although Zara accounts for 70% of its sales. This is a company with real power in the industry, and while its move towards sustainability is commendable, it does not go far enough. The global garment industry is built on the exploitation of both people and planet, therefore it is vital that the concept of sustainability also includes protecting the human rights of workers.

With sales at €26.1 billion last year, Inditex is a fashion giant, producing in 7210 supplier factories across the globe. The company has a responsibility towards its garment workers, yet still refuses to publicly disclose its supplier list. Supply chain transparency is of paramount importance as without it there is no way to verify companies claims about safe working conditions or to ensure labour rights are being upheld in factories. Many of Zara’s competitors have already made their supplier lists public, and this is a simple move towards sustainability that Inditex could take today.

Inditex claim that 3532 of its supplier factories are paying workers a living wage, yet they provide no benchmark for a living wage and offer no clarity on their methodology for reaching this figure. Without a clear definition for what constitutes a living wage, and poverty pay as the industry norm, how can they be so sure their garment workers earn a living wage? It is common practice across the industry for multiple brands to source from the same factories, and the vast majority of brands surveyed in Labour Behind the Label’s 2019 Tailored Wages report stated that their factories were not paying garment workers a living wage. Therefore, without any proof to back up Inditex’s bold claim, there are reasons to doubt it.

To be truly sustainable, Inditex must operate with transparency. This is the key to a more ethical garment industry and without it, labour and environmental abuses can and will continue unchecked and unchallenged. A re-imagining of the low-waged and highly polluting global garment industry is essential at a time when our earth is facing an environmental crisis on a monumental scale. Workers need to also be central to these discussions, as respect for the world means respect for its people too. Sustainability must be real and it must be holistic if it is to truly ensure a better future. Pablo Isla, the CEO of Inditex, has stated: “We need to be a force for change, not only in the company, but in the whole sector”. I agree, but let that change include respecting garment workers rights and ensuring that they earn enough to live in dignity.

ilana winterstein

Written by

Ilana Winterstein is an award-winning creative writer, and former Director of Communications at UK human rights campaigning NGO, Labour Behind the Label.

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