Luxury clothing brand Zara has shown its true colors and the dark underbelly of capitalism in the wake of a global pandemic. Zara, once described by Louis Vuitton fashion director Daniel Piette as “possibly the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world,” is living up to the latter part of the statement—albeit in a negative connotation.
When the world started seeing the outburst of the novel Coronavirus, the global clothing brand temporarily closed around 4,000 of its stores across the world in March. The 84-year-old Amancio Ortega—owner of Zara’s parent company Inditex, and the world’s 6th richest man directed its 11 factories in Spain to immediately switch to make personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, and washable yet stylish turquoise hospital gowns. Soon after that, Ortega flew in another 3 million units of PPE from China, along with 1,500 ventilators for Spain.
While all the god deeds happened in Spain—the country where only a minuscule portion of the manufacturing business happens. Zara’s other factory in the east—the Myanmar facility was seeing a different story unfold altogether.
At least 500 workers in Zara’s Myanmar factory were laid off in the middle of the pandemic. In the factories of Myanmar, the workers work in gruelling 11-hours shifts, for six days a week, in an environment that it is reminiscent of Germany’s concentration camps.
Myan Mode factory unionized garment workers in #Myanmar won’t accept being dismissed under the disgusting pretext of ‘#Covid’. Factory owners seizing on pandemic to fire all union members. They have made millions for @Zara and owners, and won’t be left behind during this crisis. pic.twitter.com/bIoAao5Vg5
— Andrew Tillett-Saks (@AndrewTSaks) May 4, 2020
And while the labour is back-breaking, Zara pays them pennies. The workers are paid as little as $3.50–$4.74 per day. And when they needed the company to hold on to them the most, Zara left them in the middle, fending for themselves, amidst a raging pandemic that has taken the lives of over 250,000.
Workers at @zara and @mango supplier Rui-Ning factory in #Myanmar protest use of #Covid to union-bust. 300 fired. Union president attacked by company thugs with knives. Garment workers fighting for future as owners/brands exploit pandemic for profit.https://t.co/YacW110NVe pic.twitter.com/iyFllMV95S
— CorpWatch (@CorpWatch) May 8, 2020
The excellent PR strategy by Zara to garner accolades by showing its kind work in Spain was initiated to hide the monstrosities it was committing on the factory workers of Myanmar.
The owner Ortega, who is somewhat of an urban legend in his country was given a rosy reception on his birthday.
Ortega, Inditex’s billionaire founder, is a small-town hero in Spain. Stories like how his first fashion distribution network began in 1963 at the port city of La Coruña to help women earn money, while their husbands went out to sea to fish have catapulted him to such honours.
Thousands of Spaniards came out in their balconies to wish him a happy birthday. Ambulances went past his home to express gratitude all at the same time when Zara’s workers, outside the country, were complaining of an unsafe working environment and demanding their jobs back.
Las ambulancias de La Coruña delante de la casa de Amancio Ortega para expresar el agradecimiento de toda la sociedad y felicitarle por su cumpleaños. Felicidades Amancio, Marca España 🇪🇦 pic.twitter.com/QnqHr6lzjc
— Nacho Louro (@NachoLouro) March 28, 2020
But this is not Zara’s first brush with controversy and certainly not the last as in 2015, Zara was accused of discriminating against black employees. Reports had also emerged about the condition of workers in Zara’s Brazilian factories. The company was accused of “Slave Labour” in the country.
In 2017, workers making clothes for Zara in Turkey began sewing pleas into clothes. The tags complained of underpayment. Ironically, Ortega and Inditex have been accused of tax evasion on several fronts.
A week back, Zara had to agree to pay a $30,000 settlement to a nonbinary transgender customer who reported experiencing discrimination in its New York City stores on multiple occasions.
The climate activists are engaged in a tussle with Zara over its throwaway culture of clothing. Zara, on average, releases 500 new designs a week and 20,000 per year. The company has earned a reputation for producing a flood of clothes that is ultimately destined for landfills. Wastefulness is an ineradicable feature of Zara’s business model.
Consequently, its wayward ‘fast-fashion’ strategy having no sustainability goals or worry for the planet has landed the company in a pickle with climate activists off late.
Although it should not surprise anybody that Zara treated its employees unjustly. As is the case with major conglomerates and big companies around the world, the workers of the third world countries—as the West likes to call them, are just an inconsequential cog in the machinery for them—easily dispensable at any given moment.