As the third-largest clothing company in the world after Christian Dior and Nike, Inditex’s promise to use 100 percent responsibly sourced fibers across all its brands by 2025 isn’t an idle one, even if the company’s prodigious output calls into question just how sustainable the fast-fashion business model can be.
If anything, Zara’s owner is aiming too low, according to Labour Behind the Label, a U.K.-based workers’ rights group.
“The global garment industry is built on the exploitation of both people and planet, therefore it is vital that the concept of sustainability also includes protecting the human rights of workers,” said Ilana Winterstein, director of communications for the organization. “This is a company with real power in the industry, and while its move towards sustainability is commendable, it does not go far enough.”
Case in point? Despite an industry-wide move toward greater supply-chain transparency, Inditex has yet to publicly disclose its list of 7,210 supplier factories, which makes it difficult for third-party groups to verify claims about safe working conditions and fair labor standards.
“Many of Zara’s competitors have already made their supplier lists public,” Winterstein said. “This is a simple move towards sustainability that Inditex could take today.”
Equally murky is Inditex’s assertion that 3,532 of its supplier factories pay their workers a living wage. The lack of a living-wage benchmark aside, there is “no proof” that this is the case, Winterstein said.
“Without a clear definition for what constitutes a living wage, and poverty pay as the industry norm, how can they be so sure their garment workers earn a living wage?” she asked.
Certainly “no major clothing brand” has been able to quantify that any workers making their garments in Asia, Africa, Central America or Eastern Europe are paid enough to rise above the starkest poverty, Labour Behind the Label wrote in a recent report about the state of pay in the global garment industry.
If Inditex wants to be truly sustainable, Winterstein said, it must “operate with transparency,” otherwise labor and environmental abuses “can and will continue unchecked and unchallenged.”
Change in the fashion sector, as Inditex CEO Pablo Isla pledged to deliver at the company’s annual general meeting last month, is meaningless if it excludes garment workers, she noted.
“A reimagining of the low-waged and highly polluting global garment industry is essential at a time when our Earth is facing an environmental crisis on a monumental scale,” Winterstein added. “Workers need to also be central to these discussions, as respect for the world means respect for its people, too.”