Zara is one of the most popular fast fashion brands in the fashion industry, gaining more popularity through TikTok “hauls” to name drops on the HBO Gossip Girl reboot. Zara is owned by Inditex, one of the world’s largest fast-fashion retailers. With sustainable fashion becoming more mainstream (for better or for worse), Zara has faced both public and NGO pressure to implement sustainable and ethical practices within its supply chain and manufacturing processes. While possessing popular culture and financial power, is Zara making promising environmental and social strides? Or are they making goals that coincide with comfortable changes (aka greenwashing)? From just a quick search of the Zara Cowboy Leather Heeled Ankle Boots, Zara states on their website: “caring for your clothes is caring for the environment”. Automatically shifting the burden of responsibility onto the consumer, Zara says: “whenever possible, try to use products that are respectful of the environment”. After a deeper dive, it turns out that the popular culture giant is leaving an even larger chemical and carbon footprint.
The Zara Cowboy Leather Heeled Ankle Boots have four sections composed of various materials. The upper part consists of 70% cow leather and 30% elastane (or spandex); the lining part consists of 60% cotton, 25% polyester, and 15% polyurethane; the sole consists of 100% rubber; and the insole is 100% goat leather. With these materials in mind, Zara has stated that they are working with monitoring programs to guarantee compliance with the health, safety, and quality standards for their products. Inditex’s sustainability report states that their integrated approach to sustainability is present in all of their processes and decision-making, including design, selection of materials, product processes, logistic management, stores, offices, and other components of their supply chain. This is contradicting as all of the components in just one of their products are bad for the environment. Specifically, immense amounts of fossil fuels are consumed in livestock production, so in addition to animal cruelty, cow-derived leather has almost three times the negative environmental impact than synthetics like polyurethane which is also used here.
Zara has 7,232 factories and 1,866 suppliers all over the world. Inditex’s Green to Wear 2.0 report is a list of their met and unmet sustainability standards for wet process mills. The Green to Wear 2.0 standard aims to minimize the environmental impact of textile manufacturing, so the development of Inditex’s The List program is supposed to help guarantee the purity of chemicals in production processes for the “health and safety” of their garments. The March 2021 Inditex’s Green to Wear 2.0 report stated that there are chemicals being used that are classified as “C” in The List by Inditex where “C” classification means it is non-compliant with Clear to Wear. The report also states: “The mill does not follow a chemical risk assessment procedure in order to comply with the Inditex sustainability policy. There is no control of the chemical products used during production”. The Inditex annual report is full of sustainable promises and goals including that The List by Inditex “plays a key role in the selection of chemicals used and ensures the absence of hazardous substances in emissions as well as in the products” while the March 2021 Inditex’s Green to Wear 2.0 report just reported the exact opposite. This is greenwashing.
The Inditex Annual Report has made similar goals and promises when it comes to labor and human rights. Such goals include the implementation of programs and training to help better working conditions for workers. One such example of this lies in Inditex’s Annual Report and includes Inditex’s main grievance mechanism called the Ethics Line. This mechanism is made available to Inditex’s employees and is supposedly confidential and “if need be”, anonymous. Consultations will then be managed by the Ethics Committee and “if necessary” measures will be taken to solve the situation. The language used in the report is very loose and the programs mentioned are mentioned in the abstract. Who ensures this Ethics Line and the Ethics Committee are handling situations appropriately? If it is not separate from Inditex, how do they account for bias? The Inditex Annual Report also broadly states: “Moreover, our focus is now very much on the industry, which is currently undergoing a transformation”. The Inditex Annual Report is even broader when it comes to labor and human rights. Their priority impact areas of improving employee conditions include Portugal, Morocco, Turkey, India, Bangladesh, and China. They claim to focus on improving living wages, by stating: “we run programmes that support the socio-economic development of workers in the supply chain, such as living wages and worker participation”. What programs? Where is the raw data to show if actual improvement is being made? How is improvement being measured?