The pressing issue of how garment workers are abused—a hot topic in the fashion industry, particularly since the 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy—is rearing its head again.
Fast fashion giant Zara—#24 on Interbrand’s 2017 Best Global Brands report—has responded to an Associated Press story reporting that garment workers in a Turkish factory had been staging a protest over their mistreatment by hiding the note pictured above in clothing.
The alarming plea for help—which translates in part to: “I made this item you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it”—points to a Change.org petition asking people to email Zara and Inditex executives to help them.
The printed note alleges that the Bravo Tekstil clothing factory in Istanbul owes the workers three months of pay and severance allowance. It closed down overnight, with the owner and management fleeing with funds and no forwarding address.
Videos posted on YouTube feature the stories (with English subtitles) of the desperate Turkish garment workers, many of them parents with no other source of income:
‘A SWIFT SOLUTION’
Inditex addressed the allegations in a response to Fast Company, confirming that the apparel giant has indeed been manufacturing clothing at Bravo Tekstil (Turkish for Bravo Textile), along with other European-based fast fashion labels Mango and Next, with around 155 laborers employed in that factory.
An Inditex spokesperson confirmed to Fast Company the July 2016 “fraudulent disappearance of the Bravo factory’s owner,” who vanished without paying its workers. To compensate the stiffed workers, Inditex says it is setting up a hardship fund to help the unpaid workers with Mango and Next, with project oversight by IndustriALL—the global workers’ union that represents 50 million laborers in 140 countries.
“This hardship fund would cover unpaid wages, notice indemnity, unused vacation, and severance payments of workers that were employed at the time of the sudden shutdown of their factory,” the statement reads. “We are committed to finding a swift solution for all of those impacted.”
Although Bravo Tekstil (Textile)’s owners have disappeared and may face criminal charges, the family-owned company’s website still stands and states in English to its clients—i.e. Western brands—this story and philosophy:
Bravo Textile was founded in 1993 Izmir by Hakan Erguven, and continues to be a family owned and operated turkish manufacturer. As a privately held company, Bravo Textile freely strives to implement its core philosophy of achieving success by being of service to its clients, an asset to its employees and a partner to its vendors. A heritage of hard work, integrity, and gratitude have clearly demonstrated that these character traits are Bravo Textile’s path to long term success. We believe that the best way to ensure profitability is by putting people and principals first and foremost.
Bravo’s website also lists certificates from global organizations it claims to adhere to, stating (verbatim):
BSCI The Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) is a leading business-driven initiative supporting retailers, importers and brands to improve working conditions in supplying factories and farms worldwide. The is a world of free trade and sustainable global supply chains, in which factories and farms are compliant with national labour legislation as well as with ILO Conventions protecting workers rights.
FEAR WEAR FOUNDATION Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) is an independent, non-profit organisationthat works with companies and factories to improve labour conditions for garment workers.
RIGHT TO WEAR
Inditex is aware it carries a huge responsibility to practice business ethically, both of its direct employees and the workers hired by third-party contractors in its supply chain. It’s the largest fashion retailer in the world by sales, with 7,292 stores around the globe. In 2016, it reported 23.3 billion euros ($27 billion) in revenue and $5 billion euros ($5.8 billion) in profits.
Reinforcing its commitment to sustainable and ethical business practices, Inditex replaced the “sustainability” section of its website with a section called Right to Wear, outlining its commitment and actions to protect people and the environment. Last month, Inditex celebrated the 10th anniversary of its global commitment to IndustriALL standards and subsequently reinforced its ILO agreement to meet standards to protect laborers.
In its 2016 annual report to shareholders, the company wrote that “Inditex makes a commitment to play a conscientious role in promoting Human Rights, working proactively in this area. The Group also undertakes to avoid or mitigate the negative consequences on human rights of its own activities.”
As for the Rana Plana disaster, IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary Jenny Holdcroft this week updated the progress of reparations under the Bangladesh Accord, the agreement between garment companies and trade unions aimed at fire and building safety in the Bangladeshi garment industry. As next year marks the fifth anniversary of Rana Plaza, IndustriALL is planning to transfer oversight of the accord to a Bangladeshi regulatory body.
— IndustriALL (@IndustriALL_GU) November 8, 2017
— IndustriALL (@IndustriALL_GU) November 8, 2017
Process agreed to prepare for future handover of Bangladesh Accord to a national regulator | IndustriALL https://t.co/CsbncLF4pu
— Jenny Holdcroft (@Jenny_Holdcroft) October 21, 2017
A HUMAN-CENTERED SUPPLY CHAIN
Fashion giants are under scrutiny and pressure to monitor the supply chain, including with contractors and sub-contractors, to make sure garment factories and the manufacturing process is ethical and fair every step of the way. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) just released a proposal to its members to adopt a “human-centered supply chain.”
Kering, for example, is proud of its sustainability commitment: working directly with suppliers to update practices; hiring engineers and researchers focused on innovation in dedicated labs; and partnering with startups and competitors, to shed light on and support the overall industry’s progress.
“When you are in the luxury sector, you have a responsibility because you set the trends,” said Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international affairs at Kering. “Today, when you’re buying a luxury product, you know it has to have the perfect craftsmanship and quality, but more and more, people are taking into consideration a new criteria — namely, how a brand they’re buying from takes care of people and the planet.”
“If you want your partners to work with you and trust you, you cannot say, ‘Reduce your water consumption by 10 percent tomorrow, or else we leave,’” she added. “Our goal is capacity-building, or bringing them to a place where we are sustainable, no matter the scale. To that end, we’re bringing an added value to these suppliers. Sustainability is going to be a competitive advantage—not only for us, but for them, as well.”
In a strategy other brands may want to adopt, Kering has assembled an advisory board of millennials, 15 men and women from different countries, one-third of whom are employed at Kering, to meet regularly with its board and discuss issues such as if the company is walking its talk on sustainability and ethical business practices from a consumer and employee perspective.
“The new generation are completely different to the past,” said Maria Grazia Chiuri, artistic director of Christian Dior. “They ask for more information, they are more personal in their point of view. My son looks to see if the T-shirt is cotton, where the cotton is from. There is a completely different audience with different values and ideas about what is good and not good.”
It’s not just fashion giants who are stepping up. Millennial-favored brands Everlane, Girlfriend, Naadam and The Reformation all communicate about their supply chains in an effort to be transparent and proactive.
As Daveu said, “It’s smart to push our top management to think outside of the box to identify the weak signals we’re sending out as a company, linked to sustainability, to challenge us. Sustainability today is not at all an option. It’s a necessity.”