By  on August 18, 2011

RIO DE JANEIRO — Zara, owned by Spanish clothing retailer Inditex SA, is being investigated by Brazilian federal prosecutors who were tipped off about alleged slave labor practices and conditions at sewing sweatshops run by an Inditex supplier, according to a prosecutor’s office.

The spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office in the city of Osasco in southern São Paulo State, where Zara is headquartered in Brazil, could not provide more detailed information, other than to say that the investigation was opened on Aug. 16.

Widespread press reports said that government investigators recently raided a number of São Paulo State sweatshops run by the Inditex supplier and confiscated garments with the Zara label.

At those sweatshops, investigators reportedly found 15 Bolivians and one Peruvian woman who were earning the equivalent of $130 to $150 per month, and were working 12-hour days in unhygienic working conditions.

An Inditex press release said that “in relation to information that a nonauthorized Brazilian sewing outsourcer that supplied Inditex, in which 16 irregularly employed people worked, we state that this is a grave infraction of the Inditex code of conduct, which establishes norms and requirements that protects employee rights and must be complied with by all of our suppliers. Upon being made aware of these facts, Inditex required the outsourced supplier to regularize the situation immediately. Brazil’s Labor Ministry is also regularizing their situation.”

The press release added that Inditex has 50 fixed suppliers, with more than 7,000 employees in Brazil, and that it conducts 1,000 yearly audits with suppliers worldwide to guarantee that they are complying with its Conduct Code.

Zara has 31 stores, mostly in shopping malls, in 15 Brazilian cities, according to Inditex.

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