Zara – a modern slaveholder?

23 Apr

Child labor, horrible working conditions, salaries below the minimum wage, illegal workers…
In the last few months Zara and its father company Inditex have had to cope with accusations such as employing minor workers in Brazil under “slave-like” working conditions.

Many people are enraged because of these scandals and condemn Zara directly for letting people work under inhuman conditions; however this is not entirely correct.

To begin with, Zara contracted with supply factories in Brazil. One of its most important suppliers is AHA Indústria. Over 90% of AHA Indústria´s production orders are from Zara. So this supplier was accused by the Bureau of Labor and Employment (Brazil) for employing 52 people in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Additionally 15 illegal workers from Bolivia and Peru, included a 14-year-old girl, were found working for AHA Indústria more that 16 hours a day in windowless factories. Nevertheless, Inditex denies any knowledge about these scandals.

As a consequence of these reproaches, the supplier has accepted full responsibility and is paying financial compensation to its workers, besides Inditex intends to upgrade its contractors´ working conditions and strengthen the oversight in order to meet optimum standards.

Yet, Zara (Inditex) has to cope with strong criticism. Opponents argue that it does not have complete control over its sourcing. Moreover they suggest that ethical standards existing in Spain, the home country of Inditex, should be applies absolutely across all cultures. This means that if a behavior or a practice is not okay in one´s home environment, it is not acceptable practice anywhere else. Consequently it is a universal point of view that many of Zara´s opponents represent.

But are they really right? Of course, there should be universal guidelines, how to treat employees, however companies should not run the risk of “ethical imperialism” attempting to impose their ethical standards on other cultures.

There also exist other opinions on how to treat workers in foreign countries. Some people suggest that there is no one right way to behave, in addition to that ethical behavior is determined by its cultural context. In other words, no culture is superior, that is why the values and practices of the local setting should determine what is right or wrong. Proponents of this cultural relativism claim that bad working conditions and low wages are an every-day reality in Brazil, it is part of the life in that country, so Inditex as a foreign company should not impose its one values and rules, but accept the supplier country´s practices.

Cultural relativism and universalism are two extremes. There should be found some way in between that focuses on human dignity and basic rights. That is what Zara is trying to do by strengthening the oversight of its suppliers and upgrading the working conditions. Though, consumers should observe the development and progress concerning Zara´s production and be aware of its action concerning the accusation of being a “modern slave-holder”.

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3 Responses to “Zara – a modern slaveholder?”

  1. janastaub April 25, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    Hey,
    I think it is good that this topic occurs also in our blog, because you considered it under the human resources aspect and this is quite interesting. I recommend you to also read the blog of Alexandra because she wrote for the same topic but with a different perspective and I like both versions. I agree that Inditex should find compromises. I suppose in this case it would be ethically wrong to just accept the bad conditions because I think this was probably the way the bad conditions evolved. Firms moved there and made the peolple there make cheap work under bad working conditions and there was nothing done against it. I think these conditions can only be avoided if one starts to change things. Your blog entry was quite good to read and you should go on 😉
    cheers

  2. melissano18 May 1, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    Hey Sabrina!
    Thanks for the very interesting and well written post here. I really like your argumentation and your conclusion. I totally agree with your opinion. I think most of us like to buy nice and cheap clothes, but often forget about the working condition. However, in your post you show on the one hand that Zara does some progress considering wage rate and working condition and on the other hand that this is still not the right and perfect way. At the end I think that your call for action in the last paragraph is the most powerful part of your post. People should look for the progress Zara is actually doing and I think I want to keep a look on that and how Zara is doing! Great post!

  3. sabrinacz May 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    Hey you two, thanks for your feedback! I was looking for the blog post of Alexandra, but I couldn´t find it, could you please send me the link?
    Well, modern slavery is a very important topic in economy, although many people don´t pay enough attention to it. The idea of “fair trade” gains an increasing importance, however the relatively high prices don´t allow many people to consume fair trade goods. It would be interesting to find out, where to buy fair trade clothes in Berlin, and to know more about their designs and prices… do you know something about that?
    Greets

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