Up to 400,000 Syrian refugees have entered Turkey since January last year but only 7,000 have received work permits ©AP/Lefteris Pitarakis/PA Images
Up to 400,000 Syrian refugees have entered Turkey since January last year but only 7,000 have received work permits ©AP/Lefteris Pitarakis/PA Images

Clothing brands must tackle refugees in supply chains

31 January 2017

Clothing brands sourcing from factories in Turkey are not doing enough to identify and prevent the exploitation of Syrian refugees in supply chains, a report has said.

In a survey of five Nordic fashion brands, picked because Turkey is an important sourcing location for these firms, all but one had identified only a handful of Syrian refugees working for suppliers, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) said. 

“There is clearly a gap between the information that the brands obtain about their own supply chains and third-party data, which indicate that Syrians have entered the Turkish garment sector in large numbers,” it said. 

The report said the five firms could be split into three groups based on how they were responding to the risk of exploitation refugees faced in Turkey. H&M and Varner had “taken steps in the right direction”, Lindex had “begun addressing the issue”, and Gina Tricot and KappAhl had “failed to show that they monitor and attempt to prevent the risk”. 

CCC said it was particularly surprised about the lack of action by Gina Tricot because the firm sources up to 45% of its global purchases by value from Turkey. 

In a questionnaire, CCC asked the brands a range of questions about the policies, audits and risk assessments they have in place to directly address the risk of Syrian refugees in the supply chain. It also asked what steps were taken when refugees without work permits were identified, and how they were building capacity with suppliers around the issue.

The report said H&M and Varner have started to communicate with Turkish suppliers about the issue and were both praised for auditing beyond their top two tiers. The firms also reported procedures to prevent undeclared subcontracting, and both said they worked with local NGOs to support refugees when identified.

Lindex was the only firm of the five that explicitly instructed suppliers to pay undocumented refugees the minimum wage while they were waiting for a work permit, the report said. The firm did conduct training with first tier suppliers, but did not audit beyond the first tier it said. 

Although KappAhl and Gina Tricot were criticised for not having specific policies on Syrian refugees, they have both communicated to suppliers that they are expected to follow Turkish law, the report said.

In a statement, H&M said it was “aware of and concerned about” the situation facing Syrian refugees in Turkey. It said it only works with suppliers that commit to its values, which include migrant workers sharing the same employment entitlements as locals, and it was working to influence the legal framework for employing refugees.

H&M said no Syrian refugees currently work at any approved supplier factories.

Anna-Karin Dahlberg, production sustainability manager at Lindex, said the company had taken further action since it responded to CCC’s questionnaire last August. She pointed to its zero-tolerance policy on unauthorised subcontracting and said the firm has now mapped its washing, embroidery and print processing units in Turkey and had started conducting visits. 

She added Lindex was consolidating these processes to “have better control and avoid risk” and has pledged to start publishing its processing units on its website. She said the firm was already publishing its garment production units. “We understand the challenges with the Syrian Refugees in Turkey and take them seriously, thus we will continue our work addressing this in various ways.”

SM has not yet had responses to requests for comment Varner, Gina Tricot or KappAhl.

Syrian refugees are allowed to work in Turkey with the correct permit. However, it is the responsibility of the employer to apply. CCC said of the estimated 250,000 to 400,000 Syrian refugees who entered Turkey since January last year, only 7,000 have received permits.

Working illegally leaves refugees vulnerable to abuses, including being paid below the minimum wage and facing unsafe working conditions.

Refugees without a permit are “unlikely to complain about low wages and excessive working hours to their employers or the authorities, as they are easily laid off and risk losing their only source of income”, CCC said.

Firms supplying from Turkey have previously been asked to not start sourcing elsewhere because the employment opportunities their supply chains provide can have benefits for refugees.

CCC recommended that brands sourcing from Turkey:

  • Communicate a position of protection and non-descrimination of refugees to all suppliers, and specify that refugees should not be dismissed when identified but that suppliers must apply for permits.
  • Identify what parts of the supply chain carry the greatest risk.
  • Audit past the first tier and ensure Arabic speakers are part of the auditing team.
  • Develop an action plan with civil society and trade unions to improve suppliers’ capacity to support refugees.
  • Provide remediation to refugees where necessary, especially if refugees have been denied the full minimum wage or haven't been paid overtime.

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