Press Release: Leading European fashion brands need to do more to stop exploitation of Syrian refugee workers in Turkey, report finds

LONDON 3 November 2017: More leading fashion brands are making efforts to prevent exploitation of Syrian refugees in their Turkish supply chains than last year, but the industry as a whole needs to go further, according to a report published today by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).

New Look, Next,  ASOS, Inditex (Zara), Otto Group (German fashion brand) and SuperGroup (SuperDry) are the top ranking brands in this year’s survey of 37 European companies. In 2016, only New Look and Next were judged to be taking sufficient action against exploitation.

At the other end of the scale, Aldi, Arcadia Group (Topshop, Dorothy Perkins), Asda and LC Waikiki (Turkish brand) only provided minimal information with little evidence of action to stop exploitation of refugees. KiK (German retailer), Mexx, New Yorker, River Island, s. Oliver (German fashion brand) and VF Corp (The North Face, Timberland) failed to respond to the survey altogether.

Phil Bloomer, Executive Director of BHRRC said: "Work in Turkish garment factories provides a valuable lifeline for vulnerable refugees from Syria but it also exposes them to unacceptable risks of discrimination and abuse. Some high street fashion brands  like Next, New Look, ASOS and Zara have made progress in protecting workers, but too many like Aldi, Asda, and Topshop are lagging way behind – they should learn from the leaders, and quickly."

Around 650,000 refugees are thought to be working in Turkey, and the garment industry is a key source of this employment. But most refugees don’t have work permits, leading them to engage in informal work, which brings a greater risk of exploitation. Investigations have repeatedly revealed poor wages - with women being paid half the minimum wage, and consistently less than men, and child labour used by subcontractors of European fashion brands.

The companies at the top of the BHRRC ranking are better at identifying risks of abuse in their long and complex supply chains. They have targeted plans to protect refugee workers, and mechanisms to deal with grievances and complaints, and they talk to workers’ and refugee organizations. 

The survey revealed some notable advances. For example, 15 brands now have a specific policy prohibiting discrimination and exploitation of Syrian refugees  - up from 9 in 2016. Brands have also strengthened and increased their audits of suppliers in Turkey: 9 brands reported using majority unannounced audits, up from 1 last year. Brands are also getting better at actually identifying the Syrian workers in their supply chains - a crucial first step to ending abuse.

However, over half the companies assessed need to improve in at least one of five areas.  Many brands are failing to look in detail at systemic issues which drive exploitation, like the prices they are paying for products, the demands they put on suppliers, and the risk of undeclared subcontracting, which sees manufacturing outsource to smaller, riskier factories without the buyer’s knowledge.

Phil Bloomer, Executive Director, BHRRC said: “The best practice highlighted in this report needs to become the minimum standard across Europe. If they could work on decent terms in the garment industry, refugees in Turkey and beyond would have a chance at a better life. We welcome the advances by leading companies, but Europe’s fashion brands need to ensure the price paid for the clothes on the high street ensures a living wage for vulnerable refugees and their fellow Turkish workers.”

The report recommends that garment brands sourcing from Turkey should: better identify and assess worker abuse; implement refugee protection strategies (paying attention to the unique risks faced by women refugees); support Turkish suppliers to formally employ Syrian refugees; change purchasing policies ensure they are not exacerbating exploitation in Turkey; and support civil society, trade unions and workers. Companies across the industry could also increase their collective impact if they collaborated to influence both suppliers and governments to better support Syrian refugees.

 

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For more information, to receive a copy of the report, or to request an interview contact Tara Burke of di:ga communications on [email protected] or +44 7747 745675.

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

The report will be available here on 3rd November (00:01 GMT 3 November 2017)