Zara Accused of Racial Profiling, New Report Says Black Customers Far More Likely to Be Labeled as Shoplifters


A new report by the Center for Popular Democracy accuses the high-street store of racial profiling its customers and claims the company had a “code word” for identifying suspected shoplifters. The report also states that black customers were far more likely than white shoppers to be labeled as potential thieves

After surveying 251 Zara employees in New York, the Center for Popular Democracy released the 12-page report on Monday, claiming not only do employees of color face unequal working conditions, but they have also witnessed discriminatory practices against Zara’s customers.

According to the report, the company had a practice of labeling customers as “special orders”—a security code used for suspected shoplifters. After a special order is identified, employees and the manager follow the customer around the store.

“Employees overwhelmingly felt that the Zara practice led to Black customers being disproportionately labeled as special orders upon entry to Zara stores,” the report states.

The Center for Popular Democracy also asked employees to define the term “special order.”

“While 43 percent of respondents either did not know the term or did not feel comfortable responding to questions regarding special orders, 57 percent of respondents defined special orders and characterized the frequency with which the code was applied to white, Black and Latino customers,” the report states. “Of those who responded, 46 percent noted that Black customers were called special orders ‘Always’ or ‘Often,’ compared to 14 percent regarding Latino customers and only 7 percent for white customers.”

Meanwhile, Zara has issued a statement firmly denying the allegations.

“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,” Zara told Fashionista. “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 report also alleges that mid-way through the surveying process, Zara changed their code word from “special order” to “customer service,” but notes, “workers interviewed after the change confirmed that the practice remains the same under a different label.”

This isn’t the first time the world’s biggest fashion retailer has come under fire for questionable practices. In August 2014, the retailer pulled a child’s t-shirt from its shelves after a slew complaints said it looked like a Holocaust prisoner uniform.