Zara Employees Have A Code Phrase For When They're Profiling Potential Shoplifters

Photo: Denis Doyle/Getty Images.
Less than a month ago, Zara’s former general counsel Ian Miller came forward with a major discrimination case against his ex-employer in which he claimed that following his seven-year employment, he was fired because of his sexual orientation and religion (the case goes to court later this year). Today, The Center for Popular Democracy released a survey of New York–based Zara employees suggesting that discrimination within the Spanish brand may have been taught as part of its employee-training program.

The 251-subject survey is called “Stitched With Prejudice: Zara USA’s Corporate Culture of Favoritism,” which compiles the responses of Zara employees who were approached while on break to answer questions about the company's culture. According to the report, darker-skinned employees said they were less likely to be promoted and, in addition, they were three times more likely to witness favoritism shown to white employees. Furthermore, 25% of the 59 black employee surveyed were unhappy with their work hours. That compares to 15% among the 130 Latino employees, and 12 % among the 34 white workers.

Employees were also asked about the term "special order," a code phrase used to alert other workers to a customer who's a potential shoplifting threat. Of the 57% who responded, 47% said that black customers were always labeled as "special order," and 36.4% of the survey participants agreed that black shoppers were more likely to be regarded as possible shoplifters. " Employees stated that "special orders" customers are identified by "dressing a certain way" and are "mostly African-American." The reports claims that "special orders were [...] defined as 'Anyone who looks Black, not put together, or urban.'"

Despite these ugly findings, Zara says it stands by its company commitment to diversity and high ethical standards. In a statement to us, it said, "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 predetermined result, which was to discredit Zara."

The survey results as reported are disturbing and upsetting, especially in light of Miller's upcoming trial and the string of culturally insensitive products Zara has released — and subsequently removed — in the past couple of years. Even though Zara maintains 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 and over 3,500 in all the U.S.," if such reported widespread racial bias against black customers is de facto, there's little comfort that it grew from pure intentions.
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