Just three weeks ago, a former corporate attorney for the Spanish fashion retailer Zara sued the company for $40 million, alleging that he'd been fired for being Jewish, American, and gay.
It wasn't the first time Zara had been accused of racism or even anti-Semitism—the company has been forced to apologize for a range of insensitive merchandise in the past decade, including a pajama shirt resembling a Holocaust prison uniform, a purse emblazoned with swastikas, and a T-shirt reading "White Is the New Black."
Now, the world's largest fashion chain faces allegations from its own employees, who say they are instructed to racially profile customers and black employees have less opportunity to advance. The store's theft-prevention policy targets black shoppers at almost seven times the rate of white shoppers, according to workers.
The survey of 251 Zara employees targeted six store locations in New York City and was published this week by labor and social advocacy group the Center for Popular Democracy. In early interviews for the study, author Chaya Crowder was surprised when many employees said the store’s theft-prevention policy was racially biased. So she decided to incorporate questions about the policy into a formal survey.
Zara employees repeatedly said potential shoplifters are labeled in code as “special orders” over staff headsets, prompting employees to follow those customers.
While this policy reportedly changed through the course of the survey—possibly because of Zara management catching wind of the survey, according to Crowder—the majority of Zara employees surveyed still willingly answered questions about it. Of the employees who talked, a majority saw the policy as racially problematic. While 46 percent of employees said black shoppers were “always” or “often” called special orders, only 14 percent said the same of Latino shoppers, and just 7 percent said it of white shoppers.
Racial profiling appears to be a broader problem in retail. A 2014 Villanova University study found that black shoppers regularly reported being treated unfairly in stores much more frequently than white shoppers did.
CPD’s survey also reported discrimination against employees by Zara management—64 percent of black employees said they thought their managers showed racial favoritism.
Zara USA "vehemently refutes" the survey’s findings in a statement on the website of parent company Inditex. “The report failed to follow acceptable methodologies 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,” the statement says.
An original version of the statement also discredited the report as “baseless,” but the language on Inditex’s website has since been changed.
“We surveyed 251 workers during the spring round of surveying, and these are the responses they gave. It’s not baseless—it’s actually based on real work experiences,” Crowder told TakePart in response to Zara USA’s statement.
So, Why Should You Care? The report brings attention to an issue that has tarnished the image of many retailers in recent years: allegations of racial profiling. CVS, Barneys New York, and Macy’s have all been hit with racial discrimination lawsuits in the past year.
It’s bad enough that large retailers may be treating people differently based on skin color, but racial profiling has also been identified in many cases within law enforcement nationwide. It’s a grim reality in American culture that black people can’t walk on the street—or into a retail store—and be treated the same way as white people.
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Original article from TakePart