Posted: November 8th, 2023
Project Concept Note
Not many people have taken time to consider that an immigrant or a child could have worked on the clothes they are wearing, be it in manufacturing or the cotton fields. People from poor backgrounds are exploited day and night to fulfill the demands of the fast fashion industry. However, in recent years, consumers have become more aware of the human costs caused by the addiction to shopping for clothes. As a result, more and more people are boycotting brands like Zara due to allegations of forced labour camps in different parts of the world. Zara acknowledges that slave labour is a complex issue that requires a collective response. The concept note proposes the “Lift” project, a community-based initiative to implement minimum global education standards in every locality where Zara operates. Ensuring the continuity of inclusive education for children living in fragile contexts is crucial for creating opportunities for their future socioeconomic empowerment to prevent them from ending up in garment factories.
Zara is facing increasing global criticism and regulatory pressures over its factories’ alleged use of children and slave-like conditions. A Brazilian investigative documentary revealed that Bolivian immigrant workers were working in appalling conditions for a local garment company outsourced by Inditex, Zara’s parent company (Antunes). Zara had outsourced more than 30 of its factories in Brazil. The retailer’s expansion strategy relies on short-term outsourcing and sends all production to third-party producers. As a result, the company’s supply chain becomes vulnerable to a thriving dark market for laborers in the textile industry. Zara risks further erosion of its brand image if it does not dissociate itself from the allegations of slave labour.
One of Zara’s primary shortcomings is its failure to fully acknowledge its responsibility to ensure compliance and good working conditions throughout its supply chain. The company is liable for the state of the environment in all facilities producing its merchandise. Currently, many outsourced suppliers do not meet established employment standards, including housing, wages, transportation, and the disclosure of immigrant and undocumented workers. The gap in compliance with labour laws makes Zara vulnerable to monetary and reputational damage. In response, the fashion retailer needs to enhance its commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to enhance its brand image.
Zara can do a lot more for the communities in which it operates. Research carried out by the UNICEF Office of Research has found out the evidence of interlinkages between child labour and educational achievements (Gibbons et al. 17). Thus, innovative education strategies have the ability to reduce the discriminative practice. Proposed is the implementation of a regular sponsorship program or grant-based initiative for school-based activities in communities adjacent to Zara’s outsourced garment factories. The company can ensure cost-effective learning through several local-based activities, such as the training of teachers, the establishment of reading camps, and the engagement of relevant education stakeholders to increase child enrollment.
External Factors. Some cultural beliefs contribute to the problem of slave labour. For instance, in emerging economies, people believe that working from an early age is essential in building children’s character and life skills (Radfar et al. 18). The tradition is for the child to follow the parents’ vocation and start earning from an early age. Religion might be a contributing factor to these outdated cultural values as spirituality often emphasizes hard work. A good example is the Amish community, where children are initiated into trade from an early age. Another factor contributing to slave labour is the ineffectiveness of public policies in addressing poverty, income inequalities, health disparities, and issues pertaining to social justice (Radfar et al. 19). Poverty is the primary driver behind labour migration across economies. Travelling women and children are more likely to become victims of slavery, prostitution, and drug trafficking.
Internal Factors. Zara is a vertically integrated company that coordinates all activities from a centralized location. The company may produce, ship, display, and promote its products, but it relies largely on outsourcing. The business model accords Zara with sufficient control over data that facilitates accurate market forecasting and product design modifications in a reliable manner (Lee). However, there are some negative implications to outsourcing. Foremost, poor communication between suppliers can result in supply chain bottlenecks. Regulatory compliance can become a problem when vendors and suppliers are inaccessible. Secondly, the cost containment strategy will force Zara to outsource in emerging economies, such as Argentina and Brazil, which are more prone to human trafficking. Wages are increasing, making labour more expensive. Zara might need to offer better compensation or be forced to rely on slave labour to keep up with its rivals.
The objectives to be achieved by the proposed project are:
The detailed concept of the project is presented in Table 1.
|Activity||Estimated Timeframe||Sources of Funding||Stakeholders||Expected Outcomes|
|Construction of early education centers||Four months||Zara and partners||Zara, local government, community leaders, parents, and children||Improved educational infrastructure that creates a safe and inclusive environment for all children|
|Regular parental empowerment sessions||One year||Zara and partners||Zara, parents, local government, and community leaders||Enhanced caregiver awareness of the importance of child education|
|Teacher training and placement||Two years||Zara and partners||Zara and the local government||Improved teacher professional competency, which enhances the quality of offered education|
|Introduction of life skills training and financial literacy for youth and parents||One year||Zara and partners||Zara, local government, community leaders, parents, and children||Improved life skills for children and community members in the promotion of sustainable living|
The Case for Project Implementation
Creating education opportunities in areas where Zara’s garment factories operate is a strategy meant to assure local families of a living wage in the future. Improving the quality of life for the local communities is an approach meant to contribute to the sustainable management of the retailer’s supply chain. Guaranteeing living wages is bound to improve the brand’s ability to attract low-skill labour. The empowerment programs for adults equally allow the use of collective bargaining as potential workers are promised a job and future capacity-building opportunities. Suppliers of cotton benefit from professional advice and training, whereas internal employees take advantage of competency training.
Educating local children helps to convey Zara’s zero tolerance for slave labour. The contemporary consumer is likely to base their selection of fashion brand on the degree of commitment to CSR. Therefore, the potential buyer will assess a company’s approach to social injustices, including compensation, green production, and regulatory compliance. Working with community members will increase the level of transparency in Zara, helping to build trust between the organization and the locals. The newly formed relationships will translate into long-term business transactions.
There is a range of potential problems and challenges that Zara will need to prepare for to successfully implement its education program. Most of the hurdles are unique to emerging economies. While Zara is one of the largest fashion retailers worldwide, finding the funds for a community program can be difficult in the early stages (Paci-Green et al. 6). Having a network of local-based partners and officials can prove beneficial in providing and ensuring the safety of resources that support the initiative. However, dependence on community agents poses another risk. Local leaders might not have the knowledge, training, or expertise to oversee the successful planning and construction of facilities. According to Paci-Green et al., the community is expected to act as a project manager engaged in all technical and financial dealings associated with the project (7). Geography might pose another limitation for Zara. Weather, distance, and isolation will influence the intensity of community participation. Therefore, the fashion retailer and its partners might have to invest more in providing transportation until the project’s completion.
Recruiting staff will be one of the major strategic issues for the project. Each locality has its distinct needs. Zara will have to conduct a community needs assessment in each location where it intends to set up a learning center. The analysis should help to determine the type and number of staff members the project needs. It is more likely that some areas will require more personnel training than others due to differences in educational levels. Deeply rooted traditions and values might equally impede the project’s seamless implementation. Cultural norms tend to influence expectations and willingness to participate. Zara needs to establish rapport and trust with locals for the project to kick off and reach its completion. The project manager and their team must make a conscious effort to research and understand the populations that the project will serve. Involving community members in decision-making and planning is a good way to achieve cultural competency in the enterprise.
While the project targets constructing education facilities and delivering competency training to teachers and parents, it is unclear how it will ensure that the community remains motivated upon completion. Identified community leaders will have to assume control of the constructed facilities, and they are expected to ensure continued participation. As aforementioned, Zara and its partners will have to conduct community-needs assessments to identify the resources and personnel crucial to sustained commitment. The project planners need to acknowledge that the project’s sustainability will depend on the degree of understanding of community expectations on project outcomes. A lack of continuity might result in the fashion retailer investing more money to sustain the projects. The additional money will seem like a penalty for non-performance and risks endangering the company’s reputation.
Selecting a Community Partner
Zara must work with well-established community-based non-for-profits to convey its CSR commitment to empowering local communities through new education opportunities. The selected organization should align with Zara’s model of zero advertising and endorsement to highlight the authenticity and integrity of the firm’s outreach efforts. Moreover, the identified institution should have a global presence to allow the fashion retailer to reach all communities adjacent to its garment factories. The mentioned requirements underpin why Zara will work with the Red Cross on this project. The humanitarian organization has a long history of working with private corporations to improve the quality of life for vulnerable populations. Red Cross has the global reach and influence to inspire continued participation in the project. The volunteerism associated with the organization will help Zara to guarantee the availability of human personnel to carry out educator and parent training.
The detailed assessment criteria of the project to check its feasibility and worth are presented in Table 2.
Assessment of the Project Concept
|Anticipated Outcome||Indicator||Source||Data Collection Tool|
|Local families will understand the importance of early childhood education||Family ratings on the importance of early childhood education after one year of participation in the project||Participant parents and children||Participant survey or self-reported questionnaire|
|Engaged families will record an improved attendance rate in the education programs: parents in empowerment workshops and children in formal classrooms||The number of children and parents attending the education program will gradually increase during the first and second years of project implementation||Program records, including class attendance sheets and workshop visit logs||Contact data sheets|
|Teachers and volunteers will report improved competencies||Change in educator skill sets in the program||Participating educators and volunteers||Participant survey or self-reported questionnaire|
|The number of children and women from vulnerable households working in garment factories will reduce||Number of complaints regarding slave labour in the production sites, number of children and women attending the education workshops||Program records, supplier employee records||Government records, corporate records, contact data sheets|
Fast fashion might be quick, but the “woke” culture has ensured that news is faster. Over the last few years, consumers have become more aware of the human costs associated with the clothing industry. The heightened awareness is why Zara needs to make its CSR efforts more apparent to improve its brand reputation. Proposed is a global education project targeting local communities affected by Zara’s garment factories. The retailer acknowledges that most of these production facilities are located in developing countries, with some areas struggling with access to quality education. The Lift initiative will help to ensure that vulnerable populations benefit from reliable education that meets global standards. Learning is considered crucial to women and children in vulnerable communities living fulfilling and productive lives.
Antunes, Anderson. “Zara Accused of Alleged ‘Slave Labour’ in Brazil.” Forbes, 17 Aug. 2011, www.forbes.com/sites/andersonantunes/2011/08/17/zara-accused-of-alleged-slave-labor-in-brazil/?sh=67967fb21a51. Accessed 2 Dec. 2022.
Gibbons, Elizabeth D., et al. Child Labour, Education and the Principle of Non-Discrimination. UNICEF, 2005.
Lee, Hau L. “How Extreme Agility Put Zara Ahead in Fast Fashion.” Financial Times, 10 Dec. 2019, www.ft.com/content/3f581046-cd7c-11e9-b018-ca4456540ea6. Accessed 2 Dec. 2022.
Paci-Green, Rebekah, et al. “Challenges and Benefits of Community-Based Safer School Construction.” International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, vol. 43, 2020, pp. 1-10.
Radfar, Amir, et al. “Challenges and Perspectives of Child Labor.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal, vol. 27, no. 1, 2018, pp. 17-20.
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