Many clothes are now made in Turkey because of its proximity to Europe, allowing retailers to fill last-minute orders and get new designs into shops more quickly. But Turkey is a challenging place to do business, especially following the influx of almost 3 million refugees escaping war and bloodshed in Syria. With under-resourced humanitarian assistance, jobs and wages are critical to refugee families’ well-being and security.
The garment industry in Turkey has the potential to provide decent work for refugees, but findings released today by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre show that it will not happen with ‘business as usual.’
For the second time this year, the Centre quizzed 38 high street fashion brands on their efforts to stop the exploitation of Syrian refugee workers making clothes in Turkey. While a few brands have begun to take positive steps, abuse remains rampant.
“Business as usual in Turkey is not an option for high street brands. A handful of leading brands, like NEXT and New Look, demonstrate it is a moral imperative, and commercially viable, to treat refugees with respect,” said Phil Bloomer, the Executive Director of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.
Half of the garment brands contacted take some targeted action to address the risks refugees face. ASOS, C&A, Esprit, GAP, Inditex, KiK, LC Waikiki, Mothercare, New Look, NEXT, Otto Group, Primark, Tesco, Tchibo and White Stuff reported that they expect suppliers to support unregistered refugees to get work permits. This is a positive shift; many brands previously cited a zero-tolerance policy towards unregistered refugees working in factories, leading to their dismissal, which the Centre says is the worst outcome for their welfare.
NEXT, New Look and Mothercare go further, with detailed plans that are triggered when a refugee is found to ensure they are protected and treated fairly. They also pay the Gross Minimum Wage while Syrians are employed even if they do not have a work permit yet. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre explains that this step is an important recognition that unregistered Syrian workers are unable to access social security.
“The great majority of brands are doing too little. They should learn rapidly from these leaders to outlaw abuse of refugees in their supply chains, and insist their suppliers provide decent work for all their workers,” Bloomer continued. “Syrian refugees are some of the most vulnerable people on our planet, they deserve better from the lucrative rag trade, and consumers will demand more as their plight is uncovered.”
Six brands did not respond to the questions: Gerry Weber, Lidl, Mexx, New Yorker, River Island and Sainsbury’s; while Arcadia, Burberry, s.Oliver, SuperGroup, VF Corporation and Walmart only provided short statements.
The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has released a briefing report on the recent findings, and how they compare to the findings from their earlier survey in January. In it, the authors detail recommendations for garment brands sourcing from Turkey, writing that brands should work to identify risks, implement a refugee protection strategy, review the impact of their purchasing practices on workers, and support civil society.
Furthermore, the Centre recommends that brands make long-term commitments to sourcing from Turkey and address the widespread exploitation of refugees in factories there, including discrimination and poverty wages, which the Centre expects will benefit both Syrian and Turkish workers alike.