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Zara Used a Code Word to Allegedly Profile Black Shoppers

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Photo: Getty Images

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The Center for Popular Democracy is accusing Zara of racial profiling and discrimination in a new report compiled from a survey of 251 Zara employees in New York City. According to The Guardian, the report claims that the term "special order" is a code used by Zara employees to tail shoppers who were deemed to be potential thieves. The term "special order" and the shopper's location would be stated into employees' radio headsets, and then employees would follow that person around the store.

Of those Zara employees surveyed, 43% didn't know the term or wouldn't answer questions about special orders. But of the 57% who did answer the question, 46% claimed that black customers were called special orders "always" or "often," while 14% said the same about Latino customers and 7% said the same about whites. One employee in the report said "that black customers were targeted when it came to stealing." During the course of the survey, The Center for Popular Democracy claims that Zara changed the code word for profiling from "special order" to "customer service."

The survey, which is released in the same month that news broke about a $40 million discrimination lawsuit against Zara, also claims that employees of the fast fashion chain feel there is favoritism within the company based on race. The report claims that black employees are more than twice as dissatisfied with their hours as white employees, and that darker-skinned employees were least likely to be promoted and received harsher treatment from managers.

Zara denied the claims. "Zara USA vehemently refutes the findings of the Center for Popular Democracy report, which was published without any attempt to contact the company," a Zara spokesperson told the Guardian. "The baseless report was prepared with ulterior motives and not because of any actual discrimination or mistreatment." The statement continued: "It makes assertions that cannot be supported and do not reflect Zara’s diverse workforce. Zara USA believes that the report is completely inconsistent with the company’s true culture and the experiences of the over 1,500 Zara employees in New York City."

When asked about the term "special order," Zara issued a statement saying, "The expression ‘special order’ is a term used to designate a common situation in which associates are requested to enforce customer service and zone coverage on the floor. It does not designate a person or group of people of any category."

Zara also refuted claims of discriminations against employees, stating: "In its most recent round of internal promotions at Zara USA, approximately half were Hispanic or African American employees. In addition, approximately half of all hours are regularly allocated to Hispanic or African American employees. These facts clearly demonstrate that diversity and equal opportunity are two of the company’s core values."