RIO DE JANEIRO, April 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The maker of two of Brazil’s biggest fashion brands was named to the country’s “dirty list” of companies that have engaged in slave labor, with workers putting in excessive hours for scarcely any pay, government officials said on Wednesday.
Fabula Confecçao e Comercio de Roupas was found to be outsourcing the manufacture of A.Brand and Animale clothing to three workshops in São Paulo that kept Bolivians in slavery-like conditions, it said.
Brazil’s “dirty list” is considered one of the South American nation’s most effective measures against slave labor, and companies named to it are barred from access to credit from state banks or other public financial support.
While Fabula does not own the workshops at issue, it was found by labor inspectors to be the real employer since the workshops took orders from Fabula and only serviced its brands.
“They were the ones setting the rules, so they have the responsibility,” Mauricio Krepsky, head of the Division of Inspection for the Eradication of Slave Labor, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Animale and A.Brand are two of the most well-known luxury brands owned by Grupo Soma, which owns Fabula. Soma has about 4,700 employees and had revenue of more than 1.2 billion reals ($312.28 million) in 2018, according to its website.
In a statement, Grupo Soma said this was an isolated incident, caused by a subcontractor that hired the workshops without its knowledge or consent.
“In 27 years, A.Brand and Animale never had a case of a direct supplier involved with any sort of work analogous to slavery,” it said.
The use of subcontractors by fashion companies is not unusual in Brazil, which boasts the fourth-largest garment industry in the world in number of employees.
Throughout the industry, thousands of immigrant subcontractors from Bolivia and Paraguay sew clothes in small shops for national retailers.
Grupo Soma said it has not been found guilty of slavery in criminal courts and is seeking removal of Fabula’s name from the “dirty list.”
It also said it has adopted practices to better monitor its supply chain including hiring a company to audit suppliers weekly to check work practices.
Names are added to the “dirty list” after an internal government process that can take years. Once added, a name stays on the list for two years.
Nearly 190 companies are listed, most of them farms and construction companies.
At the São Paulo workshops, officials rescued 10 Bolivians who were working 12 to 14 hours a day and slept on site, said the labor inspector’s report.
They were paid about 5 reals ($1.30) for each piece of clothing made, some of which was sold for about 700 reals ($182), it said.
In Brazil, slavery is defined as forced labor but also covers debt bondage, degrading work conditions, long hours that pose a health risk and work that violates human dignity. (Reporting by Fabio Teixeira; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)