Inditex's youth brand Bershka has opened its first German store in Berlin this weekend. While the clothing company clearly wished to impress the trendy capital with an eco-friendly store, the slavery case in Brazil weighs heavily on Inditex's sustainable image.
Platinum award for ecological design in Germany
The new store on Tauentzienstraße, with 1500 m² one of Bershka's largest in the world, will be awarded the platinum “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” certification, the highest category in one of the most demanding rating systems in the world. LEED stores have to follow the highest standards in energy conservation, waste reduction and sustainability.
Currently, five Inditex stores have received the LEED certification, but according to the holding's “Sustainable Inditex 2011-2015” program, the aim is to make all of its stores LEED-certified by 2020. This would mean that the company's CO2-emission would be reduced by 30%.
... and fines for slavery in Brazil
While Inditex tries to work on its eco-friendly image, that does not necessarily mean that the fashion giant is human-friendly too. The Regional Superintendency of Labour and Employment of São Paulo found Bolivians working in slave-like conditions in a sweatshop for one of Zara's Brazilian subcontractors. Illegally transported to Brazil, they were locked in small apartments and were only allowed out to work – compulsory at least 12 hours per day. They were paid €0.7 for each dress they made (worth over €50 in Brazilian stores) and earned up to €69 per month, clearly under Brazil's – already low – minimum wages.
Inditex has announced to appeal the fines imposed by the Brazilian Ministry of Work – about 500,000 euro – because it “cannot be held responsible for subcontractors who do not adhere to the Code of Conduct for External Manufacturers and Workshops of Inditex”, at the same time acknowledging that this was “a serious breach” of that Code. The group has promised to collaborate with the Ministry of Work “to ensure that such cases do not occur again”, but also stated not to change its working habits in Brazil.
Probably for its efficient ways of working, Inditex has a real chance of making its way into the Eurostoxx 50, a list of the most valuable companies in the Euro-zone. Opening an eco-friendly store might well be an easier way to earn points for corporate responsibility than enforcing human-friendly circumstances in their own factories...