According to a new report published by the Center for Popular Democracy, ZARA's New York City locations have a serious problem with discrimination.
Study author Chaya Crowder writes that Zara has a "documented history of racial insensitivity in its designs, discriminatory treatment of its employees, and prejudice agains its customers." Zara, as you may remember, is the company that caught flack for items like a bag with a swastika on it, a striped shirt with a gold star that looks very much like what Jews were forced to wear in concentration camps during the Holocaust, and a T-shirt bearing the phrase "white is the new black." Charming stuff!
So it's hard to be completely shocked by the report's conclusions—after surveying employees at six of Zara's NYC stores (for context, eight of the Spanish retailer's 53 U.S. locations are in the city), Crowder found that most employees feel workers with lighter skin are treated better. From the report:
Employees of color agreed most strongly that 'managers show favoritism.' Many of the employees interviewed felt that favoritism is based on race. One employee stated 'Managers definitely show favoritism to the Europeans.' Another employee asserted, 'The favoritism goes to those that are not African American or Latino'… In general, employees with a longer tenure at Zara identified favoritism, especially race-based favoritism, as an issue.
And, employees say that customers are treated with bias, as well. According to Crowder, Zara workers say that that the code "special order" is used as a way to trail suspected shoplifters in the stores. The people trailed, say employees, are disproportionately black:
A preponderance of employees surveyed mentioned a practice of labeling customers as 'special orders,' a security code for suspected shoplifters. Employees overwhelmingly felt that the Zara practice led to Black customers being disproportionately labeled as special orders upon entry to Zara stores.
A Zara spokesperson told the Guardian that "Zara USA vehemently refutes the findings," adding that Crowder did not try to reach the company.
Zara's parent company, Inditex, reiterated to Fusion in an email that Zara USA refutes the accusations, adding that the report "was prepared with ulterior motives," and that "it fails to follow an acceptable methodology for the conduct of a credible objective survey on workplace practices, and instead appears to have taken an approach to achieve a pre-determined result which was to discredit Zara."
But Zara is currently being sued by a former employee who says he was harassed and later fired because he's gay, Jewish, and American.
This, of course, is not the first time a major retailer has been accused of discrimination. Back in 2013, sources at Barneys said racism against black customers was part of the culture at the luxury department store.
Zara's parent company, Inditex, reiterated to Fusion in an email that Zara USA "vehemently refutes the claims," adding that the report "was prepared with ulterior motives," and that "it fails to follow an acceptable methodology for the conduct of a credible objective survey on workplace practices, and instead appears to have taken an approach to achieve a pre-determined result which was to discredit Zara."
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.