Swiss investigators followed the money through a sweatshirt's supply chain.
Fast fashion giant Zara has a new 'sustainable' line of clothing called Join Life, a bizarre name that comedian Hasan Minhaj poked fun at in a recent episode of Patriot Act. But jokes aside, a Swiss investigative group called Public Eye decided to get to the bottom of Zara's claims and find out exactly how sustainable a single sweatshirt in the collection is.
Public Eye selected a basic black hoodie with the words 'R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me' printed across the front, a reference to a song by Aretha Franklin. It seemed like an appropriate message, given Public Eye's mission. With help from the Clean Clothes Campaign and BASIC, Public Eye traced the origins of the hoodie back to a sewing factory and spinning mill in Turkey and to organic cotton fields in India. It then broke down the costs associated with each step of production, in order to determine how much was earned along the way.
The hoodie retails for an average of €26.67 ($29.50) and makes around €4.20 in profit per unit. This is roughly twice as much as all the people involved its production earn, which is a paltry €2.08. From the report: "According to our information, [textile] workers would earn 2,000-2,500 Turkish lira per month (€310-390), namely a third of what the Clean Clothes Campaign estimates would be needed for a living wage (6,130 lira)." It's even worse for the cotton farmers in India:
"We estimate that the cotton farmer (primarily carried out by small-scale farmers and labour-intensive) was paid around 26 cents for the quantity of raw cotton required to produce one hoody. Once you deduct 5 cents for seeds, irrigation and further inputs, a total of 21 cents is leftover to pay labourers and the farmer. Around three times this amount would be needed to pay the labourers a living wage."
Despite this, Zara's parent company Inditex has a code of conduct, which states that suppliers should earn salaries that are "enough to meet at least the basic needs of workers and their families and any other which might be considered as reasonable additional needs." Public Eye's findings show that this is not happening.
Zara has contested the findings, saying the numbers are inaccurate and hoodie production is "in line with our traceability and compliance policies, and there are no issues regarding the salaries of the workers in these factories." However, it would not provide alternate calculations. Public Eye spokesman Oliver Classen said, "They deny the result of those well-based calculations without disclosing any of the true numbers and proportions."
In order to pay all workers in the hoodie's supply chain a living wage, Zara would only have to boost the retail price by €3.62 per unit – a small price to pay to know that everyone who participated is thriving. But that's unlikely to happen. The company is built on the low-cost, fast-turnaround, high-consumption model that has made fast fashion so notorious and detrimental to the planet.
It's up to shoppers to be discerning, to stay away from brands that evade responsibility and exert cruel pressures, and to support those that show genuine R-E-S-P-E-C-T to their workers through transparent records, not hiding behind vague, head-scratching terms like 'Join Life.' Next time, Zara, maybe you could try launching 'Under the Microscope.' Only then will we start to take you seriously.