Zara has been accused of many things: stealing ideas from independent artists and designers, cultural appropriation, unfair working conditions such as not paying a minimum wage to their garment workers, and much more. However, as a Spanish person who grew up admiring Amancio Ortega and his fashion empire, even now, I struggle to boycott Zara.
Who is Amancio Ortega?
Zara owner, Amancio Ortega, is the third-wealthiest person in Europe after Bernard Arnault and Francoise Bettercourt Meye and the 27th- wealthiest in the world. He has achieved a net worth of 60.3 billion USD, by building a real empire as one of the earliest and most successful pioneers of fast fashion – a retail concept based on the mass production of cheap, mainly poor quality and disposable clothing inspired by trending styles.
Ortega, who dropped out of school at the age of 14, started working in a shop called Camisería Gala where he learned to make clothes by hand. In another shop called La Maja, where he was a tailor’s assistant, he gained knowledge of the ins and outs of garment manufacturing and dealing with customers. Only 10 years later, Amancio moved to Santiago de Compostela and created the company Confecciones GOA, which manufactured bathrobes, hand-sewn by himself and his wife, Rosalía Mera.
His business began to grow and grow as Amancio began to source cheaper raw materials and labour (all along the production chain). This allowed him to open his first Zara shop in 1975, and by 1985, the sales volume was so high that he created the Inditex group.
Why Do We Admire Amancio Ortega SO MUCH?
In addition to Zara, Amancio Ortega has created and acquired other brands such as Oysho, Bershka, Massimo Dutti or Stradivarius, among others, all based of course on the well-known concept of “fast fashion”. Who doesn’t want clothes “inspired” by haute couture brands at more affordable prices? (in other words, plagiarism). Who doesn’t want the feel the rush of buying new clothes from time to time? But fast-fashion has a dirty little secret.
Amancio Ortega will, without a doubt, go down in Spanish history as an exemplary businessman. Zara is one of Spain’s prides and it’s common to hear in schools “I want to be like Amancio Ortega.” And not only in Spain. Last Christmas, I went to France to spend the holidays with my boyfriend’s family and I remember that I really liked his auntie’s blouse. When I told her about it, she smiled and told me that it was from Zara, as if I should be proud of it.
Amancio has created an empire from scratch, making Zara one of Spain’s most beloved brands and making it impossible to dialogue or question the unethical practices of our beloved Inditex. For many, Zara, Inditex, has put Spain on the map. The Amancio Ortega Foundation has donated many millions to the Ministry of Health of Spain, including scholarships. We all have friends and family who work for Inditex. Making Amancio, Inditex, untouchable in my environment.
How Ethical is Zara?
Zara has recently published a sustainability manifesto on its website under the slogan “Working towards sustainability.” Although Zara is somewhat transparent (you can find detailed information about its supplier policies, audits and remediation processes on its website now), the promotion of such rapid consumption is harmful to both people and the planet.
The business model that Zara adopts can NEVER be truly sustainable. Some people think that Zara isn’t a fast fashion brand (because of its higher price point) but nothing could be further from the truth. Their “sustainable” Join Life range represents such a small percentage of its collections that it doesn’t have much impact on the brand as a whole, and being such a large company, there’s no excuse.
Who can forget the time France investigated Zara for crimes against humanity? Zara, along other international brands such as Uniqlo, was accused of concealment of human trafficking by an organized group, genocide, and of crimes against humanity. Thanks to Raphaēl Glucksmann, member of the European Parliament, and the citizen participation, these accusations became so widespread that last June, the European Parliament voted for a trade instrument, banning the products of forced labour from the European market.
Is Zara responsible for the conditions at its supplier chain?
It’s Zara’s responsibility to know who is making their clothes. According to their own promise: “We’re deeply rooted in respecting human and labour rights and in the effective inclusion within the company of the whole group of employees”, and this obviously includes their garment workers. So, yes, it’s up to them to do the monitoring.
According to their code of conduct for manufacturers and suppliers at Inditex Group:
- Inditex shall not allow any form of involuntary labour in their manufacturers and suppliers.
- Manufacturers and suppliers shall not employ minors.
- Manufacturers and suppliers shall not apply any type of discriminatory practice.
- Manufacturers and suppliers shall ensure that their employees, without distinction, have the right of association, union membership and collective bargaining.
- Manufacturers and suppliers shall treat their employees with dignity and respect.
- Manufacturers and suppliers shall provide a safe and healthy workplace to their employees.
- Manufacturers and suppliers shall ensure that wages paid meet at least the minimum legal or collective bargain agreement.
It’s not ok for Zara to justify non-compliance of their own code of conduct with the excuse that “Zara operates on such a huge scale that it is impossible to control its entire manufacturing process.” Is anyone forcing these fast fashion brands to produce in overseas countries with poor human rights laws and protections?
My personal dilemma with Zara
We all know that fast fashion has a human cost and Zara is no exception. Since the bad publicity, Zara has started to improve working conditions, but it’s still far from being perfect. And despite being aware of their bad practices, I still find it hard to detox from Zara. I feel guilty talking about Zara, Inditex in general, in such a rough way, because there is not a single person I talk to about Inditex who doesn’t have some fondness for the company.
As I mentioned previously, Inditex is one of the most valuable brands in Spain, making it difficult to say anything bad about Zara. I can’t bring this up without my father questioning every word I say, as well as making me feel bad for not supporting Inditex because “Amancio Ortega has done so much for this country, much more than anyone else. Amancio Ortega’s Inditex creates thousands of jobs in Spain every year, including members of your family.”
And does all this “good” justify all the evil Inditex does? Is there no room for critical thinking? I really believe that things can change, improve and that thanks to people like you and me, we can build a fairer place and a better future together. I try to avoid buying fast fashion as much as I can but if I do, I usually go for Spanish brands because I can’t help it. But if I do buy fast fashion, I buy those pieces consciously, knowing where my money is going. I wish I could team up with Inditex to make positive changes within the company.
So, if you are an influencer and you are collaborating with Zara, Pull and Bear, or any other brand of the Inditex group, or any fast-fashion brand in general, I encourage you to raise your voice. You have more power than you think.