Syrian refugees in Turkish garment supply chains: An analysis of company action to address serious exploitation

Outreach to 28 garment brands sourcing from Turkey reveals a few leading companies - including NEXT, White Stuff, and C&A - are tackling the plight of Syrian refugees in their supply chains head-on. For others, refugee workers appear out of sight and out of mind.

Briefing    |    Press Release    |     Responses by brands

Since we published this briefing, Esprit, Gap, LC Waikiki, New Look, Otto Group, Tchibo, VF have responded (available here)

Worrying reports highlight pitiful wages, child labour and sexual abuse for some Syrian refugees working without permits. There is a real risk that these abuses could occur in the Turkish clothing factories that supply Europe’s high streets. An estimated 250,000 to 400,000 Syrian refugees work illegally in Turkey, making them vulnerable to abuse.

Nevertheless, unprecedented collaborative action by brands led the Turkish government to announce in mid-January 2016 that it will issue work permits to Syrian refugees – lack of work permits is a key source of vulnerability. This is a positive step in which brands played an important part, however it comes with restrictions.  Many refugee-workers are likely to remain illegal, working in Turkey’s burgeoning informal workforce.

In light of these risks, a few brands are taking decisive action to protect refugees in their supply chain - for example, NEXT and H&M should be praised for their work to avoid children being exploited - others appear to be far less willing to act. Fourteen of 28 brands that the Resource Centre approached with questions have not responded yet, or sent short statements. Others cited zero tolerance policies on the employment of undocumented workers as evidence that they do not exist in their supply chain.

Best practice spotlight: NEXT's Syrian Refugee Action Plan

Only one brand outlined a specific ation plan on this issue. NEXT's action plan provides clear dos and don'ts for when Syrian refugees are identified. It makes clear that factories should not expel any Syrian workers, that Syrian workers must not be subjected to threats, and that they should not obstruct access to remedy.

Key findings from this initial research:

  • Specific policy lacking: Only three brands shared specific policy communications to suppliers regarding the treatment of refugees that prohibited discrimination and provided support to these workers.

  • Out of sight out of mind - auditing processes not fit for purpose: Brands are generally conducting announced or semi-announced audits on their first tier suppliers, with less scrutiny further down their supply chains. Only 4 brands said they had detected Syrian refugees in supplier factories. Six brands said they had not detected any refugees, and the majority have not yet responded to this specific question.

  • Lack of engagement with local civil society partners: Only three brands report having an active programme of engagement with local partners such as refugee focused NGOs, who have expert knowledge of the needs of this vulnerable group to prevent and remedy abuse.

  • Good government engagement: It is a major achievement, that the brands successfully lobbied the Turkish Government both directly and through the FLA and ETI for work permits for Syrian refugees.