Winter Park jewelry company accused of bilking thousands of dollars from overseas employees

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Debbie Farah, left. - PHOTO VIA DEBBIEFARAH.COM
Bajalia International Group, a Winter Park jewelry company promoted on HSN, is being accused of bilking thousands of dollars from the female artisans it employs in developing countries like Afghanistan and India, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

In a long, detailed story, Times reporter Justine Griffin writes that on air at HSN, Winter Park resident Debbie Farah was "portrayed as a savior for women in poor and developing nations" who made the handcrafted jewelry she would sell on HSN and on her website, telling customers they were helping these craftswomen earn living wages and helping female entrepreneurs. Now those same craftswomen and former employees accuse Farah of exploiting them and owing them money for jewelry they made for Bajalia but were never paid for.
The Times interviewed Bakht Nazira, a woman who used to employ more than 50 women in a small jewelry business in Afghanistan to make products for Bajalia and is currently owed $70,000. According to the Times:
Bajalia was requesting larger orders from Nazira to sell on air on HSN, but the payments stopped coming.

In June 2014, Nazira said she tried to tell Farah it was too hard on her employees to complete a large order of thousands of necklaces, bracelets and earrings during fasting time for Ramadan, but Bajalia needed the order for HSN.

"We tried to tell her that it was too hard on the people who are fasting," Nazira said.

When the shipment arrived in the United States, Farah said the jewelry was damaged or in poor shape.

"The quality was so bad that we had to scrounge our office for extra that we had from previous shows to supplement," said Barika Poole, the operations project manager at Bajalia at the time. "HSN had a very specific and thorough inspection and quality process. If something doesn't pass inspection, we can't sell it."

Poole said they were able to sell some of the jewelry that arrived from that shipment to HSN. But Nazira would never be paid for any of it.
In an interview with the Times, Farah admitted she owed money to different artisans and organizations and was planning to pay them but would not give a timeline. Last year, she was recognized by the Florida Retail Federation as a "outstanding retail leader." To read the entire story from the Tampa Bay Times, click here.

4 p.m. UPDATE: U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Winter Park, has responded to the Tampa Bay Times story where she was listed as a member of Bajalia International Group’s board of directors in earlier years. Bajalia is accused of cheating female artisans in developing nations and other organizations out of thousands of dollars.

Orlando Weekly emailed Murphy for a comment on Bajalia, and although she was not available, her office did provide a statement saying, "Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy has had a long standing commitment to helping grow women- and minority-owned businesses and promoting social entrepreneurship. Regarding the Bajalia organization, the Congresswoman did serve in an advisory capacity for a few years but severed her relationship with the organization in 2014."

PHOTO VIA BAJALIA



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