- Immigrant workers discovered producing clothes in ‘degrading’ conditions
- Claims: Bolivian labourers made to work more than 13-hour days
- Prevented from leaving the factories without permission, they claimed
High Street fashion chain Zara is under investigation over the use of sweatshops and child labour, it was revealed last night.
‘Degrading’ factory conditions in Argentina were reportedly used to produce clothes for the store that boasts the Duchess of Cambridge and Samantha Cameron among its fans.
Mostly Bolivian labourers, including children, were made to work up to 16-hour days without breaks and were prevented from leaving the factories without permission, according to investigators.
Scrutiny: High-street fashion store Zara is under investigation over the use of slave labour at factories in Argentina, it was reported today
Authorities moved in on the sweatshops on the outskirts of Buenos Aires after a tip-off from a workers’ rights charity. Gustavo Vera, a spokesman for the charity La Alameda, said people were made to start at 7am and work without a break until as late as 11pm, from Monday to Saturday.
He said: ‘Their workplaces were also their homes, families were forced to share cramped quarters in a mess of sewing machines, needles, threads and children. The places were dark without proper lighting to sew and no ventilation.’
Royal seal of approval: Zara is a favourite with the Middleton sisters- both were seen wearing the brand the morning after the royal wedding in April 2011 with Kate wearing a Zara dress and Pippa wearing a Zara blazer
Zara has seen profits soar over the past three years – no doubt aided by the ‘Kate effect’ as the Duchess is regularly spotted wearing their garments.
Her sister Pippa is also a fan as are Mary Berry, Tess Daley and Mrs Cameron. The Spanish-owned retailer has 1,540 stores worldwide including 64 in the UK.
The publicity-shy founder and majority-owner of Inditex, the company that owns Zara, is 77-year-old Amancio Ortega. He is the world’s third richest man with a fortune of £38billion, according to Forbes.
Among the items being sewn at one clandestine workshop in Buenos Aires, according to the Argentinian authorities, were pieces from the Zara Man fashion line, which are sold in British stores.
Juan Gomez Centurion, head of Argentina’s Government Control Agency which raided three factories producing Zara clothes last week, said: ‘We found men and children who lived in the place where they worked. They were not registered and they were living in terrible conditions.
They had no official documents and were held against their will, they were not allowed to leave their workplaces without permission.’
This is the second time Zara has been accused of involvement in slave and child labour in South America.
In 2011 a group of workers – 14 Bolivians and one Peruvian – were rescued from an unlicensed factory in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where clothes carrying the Zara label were being produced.
The immigrant workers, one of whom was reported to be just 14, were living in dangerous and unhygienic conditions, forced to work 12-hour shifts for between £95 and £176 a month.
The company was later forced to apologise in front of state deputies at Sao Paulo’s Human Rights Commission, and paid fines totalling more than £350,000 as well as compensation to the workers.
Zara said yesterday they were ‘surprised’ by the revelations and claimed they had not been officially notified by the Argentinian authorities.
A spokesman said: ‘From the limited information we have, which are the addresses of the workshops, they have no relationship with our suppliers and manufacturers in the country.’
He added that Zara has 60 Argentine manufacturers and in the last two years conducted 300 audits of suppliers and factories, but would co-operate with any investigation.