Pablo Isla, executive chairman for Zara brand owner Inditex Group, announced corporate sustainability commitments this week that include switching to 100% organic, sustainable or recycled cotton, linen, and polyester by 2025. Some critics, citing the company’s past practices, are calling the move “greenwashing.”
Cotton, linen, polyester, and viscose constitute 90% of the raw materials that Inditex Group purchases, according to the company. Viscose is expected to reach the organic, sustainable or recycled target by 2023.
In addition to the pledge to improve materials across brands, Isla said Inditex would eliminate single-use plastics entirely for customer sales by 2023. Green building and renewable energy were also prioritized for stores, logistic centers, and corporate offices.
“Sustainability is a never-ending task in which everyone here at Inditex is involved and in which we are successfully engaging all of our suppliers,” Isla said.
Spanish multinational clothing company Inditex owns eight brands: Zara, Zara Home, Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, Oysho, and Uterqüe. The group’s revenue was €26.15 billion ($29.35 billion) in 2018.
History of Problematic Practices
Zara’s practices have been under scrutiny for years. Forbes reported in 2011 that Brazilian investigative TV reporters accused the fast-fashion retailer of accepting slave-labor working conditions in more than 30 outsourced local plants.
In 2012 Greenpeace called out the brand — along with other major clothing companies — for chemical usage. The following year Zara bowed to the nonprofit’s campaign, promising to eliminate all discharge of hazardous chemicals from its supply chain and products by 2020.
Workers in Turkey hid secret messages in garments they produced for the retailer in 2017. “The tags were left by workers from local company Bravo Tekstil, which produced clothes for Zara and other big international brands like Next and Mango,” the BBC reported at the time. “The manufacturer went bankrupt overnight in July 2016, and its workers said they were not paid in the period up to its closing.”
A year ago, journalist Carson Kessler’s timeline of Zara controversies for Forbes included a bag embroidered with a swastika, a children’s shirt resembling a Holocaust prisoner uniform, a t-shirt that read “white is the new black,” and a $40 million discrimination lawsuit filed against Inditex founder Amancio Ortega.
Greenwashing Questions Raised
“[We] are highly focused on making clothes in a responsible, sustainable way that limits the impact on the environment and [which] challenges ourselves to continually work as hard as we can to improve how we manufacture,” Marta Ortega, a member of the Zara women’s design team and Amancio Ortega’s daughter, told Vogue in a recent interview.
However, Euronews’ Rosie Frost questioned whether the new sustainability pledge was “a token signal of commitment to sustainability to soothe the environmentally concerned conscious.”
Ethical fashion activists were quick to call out the Inditex announcement as “greenwashing,” she reported.