Zara Accused of Racially Profiling Its Customers in New Report

Things are not getting any better for Zara's public image.
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Maura Brannigan
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Things are not getting any better for Zara's public image.
A Zara store in Bucharest, Romania. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

A Zara store in Bucharest, Romania. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

It’s been just three weeks since several current and former Zara executives hit the Spanish retail giant with a $40 million discrimination lawsuit — and a new report suggests that Zara's discriminatory behavior may carry over to its stores.

Between February and April, the Center for Popular Democracy surveyed 251 Zara employees in New York, releasing the findings in a 12-page report on Monday. The report details a loss prevention practice used in Zara's stores: If a “suspicious” shopper (i.e. one that appeared likely to steal) was identified walking into the store, he or she would be labeled a “special order.” An employee or manager would then be asked to follow that customer. Midway through CPD's surveying process, the store reportedly switched to using the code “customer service,” rather than “special order.”

Among those surveyed, 43 percent were either unfamiliar with the term “special order” or did not feel comfortable answering questions about it. Of the 57 percent of respondents who did, however, 46 percent said black shoppers in particular were given the label, “always” or “often.”

During a focus group conducted by the same workers’ rights organization, one black employee said even he had been marked a “special order” when he was going to pick up his paycheck while wearing a hooded jacket.

A Zara USA spokesperson issued the following statement to Fashionista:

Zara USA vehemently refutes the claims contained in the Center for Popular Democracy report, which was prepared with ulterior motives and not because of any actual discrimination or mistreatment. 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. Zara USA believes that the claims made in the report are completely inconsistent with the company’s true culture and the experiences of the over 1,100 Zara employees in New York City and over 3,500 in all the US.

The findings of this study were first reported by The Guardian