Zara is under investigation by Argentinian authorities over its alleged use of slave labor. The South American nation’s Government Control Agency raided a series of factories associated with the world’s No. 1 apparel retailer after La Alameda, a local workers’ rights group, tipped it off to the “degrading” sweatshop conditions faced by the mostly Bolivian workforce, which reports say included children. Besides being held under virtual lock and key, employees told officials they were forced to toil for 16 hours a day, six days per week, without breaks.

PREVIOUSLY ON ECOUTERRE: High-Street Retailer Zara Accused of Alleged “Slave Labor” in Brazil

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“We found men and children who lived in places where they worked,” Juan Gomez Centurion, head of Argentina’s health and safety watchdog, told the Telegraph on Thursday. “They were not registered and they were living in terrible conditions. They had no official documents and were held against their will, they were not allowed to leave their workplaces without permission.”

This isn’t the first time the retailer has been accused of facilitating a sweatshop-like environment.

A Zara spokesman said the company was surprised by the allegations, however. “Based on the limited information we have received so far, the workshops in question do not appear to have any relationship with our approved suppliers in Argentina,” he said. “We are keen to work with La Alameda to understand the substance of their allegations, but we have received no contact from them regarding these claims, nor have we had any contact or complaint from the Argentinian authorities.”

This isn’t the first time the retailer has been accused of facilitating a sweatshop-like environment. In 2011, a news crew filmed Bolivian workers laboring in unsafe conditions at one of Zara’s subcontracted facilities in Brazil for less than $570 a month.

To draw the disparity into focus, Zara is part of Inditex, a Spanish fashion-distribution juggernaut that posted a net profit of $3.2 billion in 2012. The company’s majority owner, Amancio Ortega, is no slouch either: he is the world’s fourth-richest man, according to Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $54.5 billion.

[Via the Telegraph]