International fashion giant Zara has come under fire from a human rights group after Argentinian police swooped on sweatshops making clothes bearing its labels.
Sewing equipment and bunk beds were found at one warehouse in Buenos Aires. It is believed that 21 workers, mostly migrants, were working 16-hour shifts in slavery-like conditions.
Videos and photographs of the three workplaces are to be used in a complaint against the three clothing manufacturers, Zara, Cara Cruz, and Ayres, whose labels and designs were found in the building.
Gustavo Vera, director of Argentinian human rights group La Alameda, said: “These places were in a dreadful situation. There were loose cables, flammable material, plenty of dust and overcrowding. They were really living there like animals.”
There is no evidence any of the companies own or operate any of the sweatshops, but La Alameda maintains there must be a link with the companies.
“They found labels,” said Mr Vera. “They also found designs which prove that all of these three workshops worked for Zara.”
Responding to the allegations, Cara Cruz said it has “not been legally notified of the case” and “it doesn’t have any knowledge of any links with clandestine workshops”.
In a statement to El Pais newspaper in Spain, Inditex, parent company to Zara and Ayres, said it was “surprised and indignant” and that it had “no knowledge of the facts”.
“We have zero tolerance when it comes to situations like this,” said a spokesman. “We regularly audit the 60 suppliers we have in Argentina.”
Two years ago, Zara was investigated by Brazil’s ministry of labour after a contractor in São Paulo was found to be using employees in sweatshop conditions to make garments for the Spanish company. The Brazilian government listed 52 charges against Inditex after it “rescued” 15 workers from a factory sub-contracted by AHA, the company responsible for 90% of Zara’s Brazilian production.
Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign in Amsterdam said such sub-contracting was common in the industry.
“It is Zara’s responsibility to know who is making their clothes,” she said.
“According to the code of conduct that they have signed up to, they are responsible for everyone involved in the supply chain. It is up to them to do the monitoring.”
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