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14 Feb 2023

Turkey: Brands & retailers called on to support textile suppliers & workers following earthquake

In February 2023, southern Turkey and northern Syria experienced devastating earthquakes, with the most severe reaching a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale. The earthquake has killed over 41,000 citizens* and injured tens of thousands, with rescue missions among thousands of collapsed buildings and infrastructure taking place amid freezing winter temperatures.

As one of the world's major textile and apparel industries, concerns have been raised regarding the safety of workers employed in factories and textile mills located in the affected provinces in Turkey, and the impact the damage and destruction will have on the industry.

According to International Apparel Federation (IAF) president and Turkish Clothing Manufacturers’ Association (TGSD) vice-chair, Cem Altan, 1,616 garment and 1,290 textile companies operate in the 11 affected provinces ( Kahramanmaraş, Malatya, Hatay, Gaziantep, Adıyaman, Osmaniye, Kilis, Şanlıurfa, Adana, Diyarbakır and Elazığ ), with a third of Turkey's apparel and textile workers employed in these regions.

Better Cotton has reported that Better Cotton Farmers and Programme Partners are among the victims, and that many Members, including ginners, spinners and traders, are based in the affected areas.

According to Ramazan Kaya, the president of the Turkish Clothing Manufacturers Assocation, it is still too early to determine the impact of the earthquake on the garment sector, due to the extent of the destruction and damage in the residential areas. However, it has been reported that the impact on factories in industrial zones has been limited. However, the port of Iskenderun in Turkey has been temporarily stopped following severe structural damage, and roads have been heavily impacted, impacting production and logistics in manufacturing.

The sector is reported to be in 'triage mode', with undamaged textile mills in provinces including Diyarbakir pausing production to be used for providing shelter and food for those affected. Some factories, for example those in Adana and Malatya, are operating at 20-25% capacity, while factories in Sanliurfa have paused production, as employees are unable to travel to work.

It is predicted that damage to gas pipelines and electrical infrastructure will pose challenges for the industry in the future.

Fair Labor Association provided a set of guidelines for brands sourcing from Turkey, emphasising the importance of engaging with suppliers to understand the impact of the earthquake on the workers and factory structures, as well as ascertaining the situation for indirect as well as direct suppliers, and discussing business continuity plans and providing technical assistance to suppliers if needed. According to the FLA, several suppliers have requested social compliance audits be postponed. Similarly, the Ethical Trading Initiative has called on brands to engage and support their affected suppliers, workers and their representatives.

In April 2023, interviewed textile manufacturers reported differences in approach from brands sourcing from Turkey since the earthquake. While one manufacturer reported patience and understanding from buyers, others reported lack of understanding, hesitation from brands to collaborate, and brands preferring to transfer production elsewhere. A manufacturer also reported brands suggesting they lower prices to match competition elsewhere, and attempts to negotiate prices.

In June 2023, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited eleven brands to complete a questionnaire, regarding their purchasing practices and assistance they provided to their suppliers in Turkey, which were impacted by the earthquakes. In August 2023, Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) assessed how 16 leading fashion brands responded to the earthquake, drawing analysis from brand responses to the questionnaire by BHRRC, the WRC's own correspondence with brands, and a survey of 200+ suppliers in the affected region conducted by researchers at Middle Eastern Technical University. The WRC found that while all 16 brands reported extending deadlines on clothing orders in production at the time of the quake, only C&A and Marks and Spencer went beyond this step, which amounts to the bare minimum given the scale and scope of the humanitarian crisis. Supplier testimony reflected the consequences of brands' lack of support: 48% of suppliers in the survey couldn't pay their workers in full and 33% were forced to place workers on unpaid leave. The WRC urged brands to meet their responsibilities under the UNPGs.

*recorded 23 February 2023