Unpaid laborers who slipped pleas for help into Zara clothes ‘have not received their back wages’
Many of workers who slipped pleas for help into the pockets of Zara clothes they made have reportedly still not been paid despite an international outcry. Some 140 Turkish workers at the Bravo Tekstil factory claimed they had not received three months worth of back wages and severance after the factory shut suddenly in the summer of 2016 earlier this month. It is understood the owner of the company, which made clothes for high street brands such as Zara, Mango and Next, has disappeared. Their plight came to light when the Clean Clothes Campaign, an activist group trying to improve conditions in the garment industry, teamed up with the workers to slip notes into the pockets of clothing in stores across Istanbul begging for help. The notes, in Turkish, said: “I made the item you are going to buy, but I haven’t been able to get my money!” The group said they targeted Zara in particular because 75 per cent of the work they did was for that country. The news prompted outrage around the world, with 293,000 million people signing a Change.org petition directed to Inditex, Zara’s parent company, demanding they pay the lost wages. In response Inditex, along with Mango and Next, said they had already set up a hardship fund for the workers which would be overseen by the global trade union for garment workers, IndustriALL. But the garment workers said many of them had been excluded from the fund because it was reportedly only designed to compensate the 77 workers IndustriALL deemed “blue collar”, CBC News reported. They classified 63 workers as “white collar” – meaning they had some seniority or did not work on the factory floor – and said this meant they were not entitled to compensation. Bahar Ugur, who worked as a secretary for the company, said she was owed around 20,000 lira (£3,800) for three months wages and six years’ severance pay, but she is unlikely to see a penny. The 26-year-old said: “We felt like we won. “There are people who couldn’t pay their rent, people who had newborns”. She said they had originally felt “safe” at the company because it made them feel like they were part of a “family” and it was “a big deal to work for them”. The Clean Clothes Campaign’s representative in Turkey, Bego Demir, said the distinction between white and blue collars is arbitrary and illegal. “They already signed an agreement and said we’re accepting our responsibility for all of our supply chain”, he said. Inditex has previously been vocal about the need to improve labour conditions in the garment industry. Last month it sent out a press release about a meeting between its CEO, Pablo Isla, and the Director-General of the International Labour Organisation, Guy Ryder, in Geneva, Switzerland to “explore the progress made to date” on initiatives to improve conditions in “China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey and Cambodia”. During the meeting, Mr Isla stressed “Inditex’s firm commitment to the ILO conventions, on which our Code of Conduct for Manufacturers and Suppliers is based, and to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, especially those related to decent working conditions”. Their Code of Conduct states: “Manufacturers and suppliers shall also ensure that wages and any other allowances or benefits are paid on time and are rendered in full compliance with all applicable laws and specifically, that payments are made in the manner that best suits the workers.” A spokeswoman for Inditex told The Independent: “Inditex has paid all its contractual obligations to Bravo Tekstil but the factory’s owner has disappeared fraudulently. “Inditex has developed a proposal with IndustriALL Global Union (the International Federation of Unions which represents more than 50 million workers globally), together with the brands Mango and Next to establish a hardship fund for the workers affected. “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 in July 2016. “At this point in time, IndustriALL with the support of Inditex is still negotiating with its affiliate union in Turkey to try to reach an agreement. We are committed to finding a swift solution for all of those impacted.” The Independent has contacted Mango, Next and IndustriALL for comment.