Zara is leading the trending topics on twitter in Brazil today because of an investigation made public last night by Repórter Brasil which involves accusations of slave labor and child labor.

According to the article published by Repórter Brasil, Zara’s national suppliers started to be investigated by São Paulo’s Bureau of Labor and Employment in May of this year, when 52 people were found working at a factory under unsanitary conditions, producing pants for Zara Brazil. In another inspection last month, 15 foreign workers from Bolivia and Peru, including a 14-year-old girl, working under slave-like conditions, were set free from two factories in São Paulo. Aside from the unsanitary and hazardous work environment, workers faced over 16-hour shifts, were prohibited from leaving the factories, in this case homes with almost no windows, and were paid a salary in between R$274 and R$460, less than the legal minimum wage of R$545.

The supplier responsible for contracting the two factories investigated and filed for slave labor is AHA Indústria e Comércio de Roupas Ltda., and in between April and June of this year, 91% of its production was contracted by Zara Brazil. According to the investigation, AHA was the Zara supplier in the country which most grew in revenue and number of pieces manufactured over the last year. In spite of its growth, however, the supplier drastically cut down its number of employees and workers from 100 to 20 from June of 2010 to May of this year. Also according to the investigation, AHA was in direct contact with Zara’s headquarters in Spain, sending samples directly to Spain for approval.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment in Brazil has charged Zara with 52 infractions for the two factories inspected in July. According to fiscal auditor Giuliana Cassiano Orlandi, who is involved in the investigation, Zara “should be responsible for all of its suppliers, and it is a duty of the company to be aware of how its merchandise is being produced.” It is believed that there are other 30 factories producing for Zara in Brazil also operating under slave-like conditions.

Inditex, the Spanish corporation which owns Zara and is also the world’s largest fashion group, released a statement today saying that the case represents a “serious breach in accordance with the Code of Conduct for External Manufacturers and Workshops of Inditex,” and that “the Inditex group, along with Brazil’s Ministry of Work, will strengthen the supervision of the production system of all its suppliers in the country to ensure that such cases do not occur again.”