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1 Nov 2016

What’s changed for Syrian refugees in Turkish garment supply chains?

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Briefing |  Press Release | Company responses to survey

Almost 3 million refugees have fled to Turkey to escape war and bloodshed in Syria.  This influx creates huge challenges for government, businesses and the local population.  Refugees seek security for themselves and their families.  With under-resourced humanitarian assistance, jobs and wages are critical to families’ well-being.  However, our research revealed that exploitation of Syrian refugees including child refugees is endemic in the garment industry in Turkey.

We surveyed 38 high street brands for the second time this year on the steps they are taking to protect these vulnerable refugee workers. A few brands – including NEXT and New Look– lead the way with better policy and practice and a larger group of brands have begun to take positive steps. However, abuse remains endemic as laggard companies do too little, too slowly. See our previous briefing here.

The survey of brands reveals:

  • Exploitation of refugees remains endemic: the great majority of European fashion brands must act faster and more decisively to eliminate abusive exploitation of refugees from their Turkish supply chains. Their standard compliance methods of announced audits of their first tier suppliers are inadequate and discredited. Far more rigorous approaches should be adopted.
  • Positive shifts, including from Primark which has increased its monitoring programme in reaction to the issues faced by refugee workers, and H&M which shifted its stance on the employment of undocumented workers from a zero tolerance policy to a pragmatic one which looks to support the refugee. Despite having a small supply base in Turkey, New Look has put in place a detailed plan to address exploitation, demonstrating far better targeted action than some brands that have a larger supply base in the country.
  • Increase in brands identifying refugees: Ten brands found unregistered Syrian refugees in their supply chain. It is positive that some are being open about this issue and the challenges they face -  this is a welcome first step towards action to stop exploitation.
  • A minority of brands are taking important collective action on the issue through the Ethical Trading Initiative; others should follow suit.
  • Wider issues hinder progress: Without systemic change to purchasing practices and monitoring processes, even the most ambitious action to protect Syrian refugees by individual brands will likely fall short.   Companies need to pay decent prices and ensure greater certainty and predictability for suppliers to avoid undeclared sub-contracting to informal factories where the risks are highest.

See also: BBC Panorama Undercover: The Refugees Who Make Our Clothes