Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Business

HSN drops jewelry company accused of cheating its artisans

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ST. PETERSBURG — HSN is ending its business relationship with Bajalia International Group, an Orlando jewelry company accused of cheating female artisans it works with in developing countries.

A spokesman at HSN told the Tampa Bay Times late Thursday that the television retailer had completed a three-month-long internal investigation into Bajalia International this week. The review was prompted by questions from a Times reporter. HSN declined to comment on details of the internal review.

"I can confirm that our review is complete and that we are no longer working with Bajalia," said Brad Bohnert, operating vice president of public relations and events, in an email. "We remain committed to our mission of empowering women and helping families in times of need, and will continue to seek out partners who share this commitment."

Bajalia International is accused by some artisan vendors and former employees of exploiting the vulnerable women the company claims to empower and support. They say numerous women and nonprofit organizations are owed thousands of dollars for jewelry they made.

Previous Coverage: HSN featured a Florida jewelry company accused of cheating female artisans in developing nations

Debbie Farah, the company's founder and CEO, has said Bajalia International has a solid track record of paying its artisans since the company began working with HSN in 2011.

"HSN has been an amazing partner to us and has helped us grow our artisans' businesses," Farah said in an interview with the Times earlier this month. "Without companies like HSN, artisans couldn't scale and grow. Jobs wouldn't be created. HSN is a leader in this space and we have helped them with this mission."

Farah was preparing for an upcoming HSN show in March, which had been delayed due to the investigation.

The review was prompted by a former Afghan vendor who did business with Bajalia who claims that she is owed nearly $70,000 for a large order of jewelry Bajalia placed in 2014. Bakht Nazira says she employed more than 50 women outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, to make necklaces and bracelets for Bajalia. Nazira said her staff worked through fasting time at Ramadan to get a large order to Farah for an HSN show.

Farah says that the jewelry from Nariza's order was damaged or in too poor of quality to sell on HSN, and therefore she was forced to take a loss on the order she planned to supply to HSN. Farah says she ended the business arrangement with Nazira after that order, despite several successful years of mentoring and working with her. Farah says she helped double the size of Nazira's business over the years.

"She was accepting bad advice from other people, and we could not continue to do business with her," Farah said in an interview with the Times. During that interview, Farah showed a Times reporter boxes of damaged lapis jewelry that Bajalia ordered from Nazira in 2014. "The quality of her jewelry suffered when she and her family moved to the United States (but her business operation remained in Afghanistan). She didn't understand that what she saw on HSN didn't come from the order she sent us."

However, Farah admitted to not paying at least three vendors nearly $60,000 collectively for jewelry orders placed in 2008 that were not sold on HSN. Those vendors were working with Bajalia Trading Company, a nonprofit operation that Farah no longer uses to sell artisan jewelry.

Farah did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday about the HSN decision. But in previous interviews, she said that the issue with Nazira was an isolated incident and provided the Times with a list of more than 40 artisan vendors whose products were showcased and sold on HSN segments.

The Times is trying to contact those vendors and so far has reached several of them.

Previous Coverage: Tuesday's letters: HSN committed to ethical business practices

One, Mohammad Javed, works with his father and brother in India to produce handmade jewelry and home decor items through their business, Exotic Artisans. Javed's company employs women artisans from villages in India. Javed said he has been working with Farah and Bajalia since 2013 and has never had an issue being paid.

"It makes me proud to see our products on HSN," he said during a Skype interview with the Times. "Payments always come on time. Debbie is very professional, humble and supportive."

Another vendor, Priya Sharma of Ethereal Crafts in India, has been selling jewelry and home decor items to Bajalia for more than six years. She said she has never had an issue being paid by Bajalia.

"Debbie does this because she cares," said Sharma during a Skype interview. "She visits our women in their villages and praises them for their work."

But Christelle Paul, who runs Atelier Calla in Haiti, says she has not done much work with Bajalia since 2014. Paul's company makes jewelry from bone and wood, and some of her items were sold on HSN through Bajalia. Paul said she was eventually paid for the orders, but it took longer than expected.

"It was hard at the end. We had to tighten our belts," she said. "Unfortunately in this line of business it can happen. I have to balance the risk and the consequences of every business relationship. My first priority is to always take care of my employees."

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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