Fashion brands have been urged to keep their supply chains in Turkey despite the widespread risk of Syrian refugees being exploited in supplier factories.
The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) said there was “talk of brands shifting their purchasing elsewhere” amid increasing scrutiny and criticism of supply chains in Turkey, but said responsible sourcing could provide decent work and valuable wages to Turks and Syrians.
Although a lot more needs to be done to fix the “endemic” exploitation of refugees, BHRRC said: “There is a real opportunity for international business to help bring greater prosperity and security to long-suffering refugees, and the Turkish communities who have welcomed them.”
The exploitation of refugees was brought to the public’s attention recently in a BBC Panorama expose that found child refugees working in factories supplying Marks & Spencer (M&S) and ASOS.
However, as early as December last year BHRRC was surveying fashion firms to find out how they were responding to the supply chain risk refugees in Turkey created. A subsequent report in February found few had engaged with the issue and fewer were taking pragmatic steps.
In a follow-up report BHRRC found there was still a “gulf” between those taking steps to eradicate exploitation and “a long tail of laggard brands”.
A survey received responses from brands including Adidas, Gap Inc, M&S and Primark, among others.
It found around half of brands that responded are taking some form of targeted action on Syrian refugees in Turkey, compared to only a handful in February, and just over half now expect suppliers to help unregistered refugees obtain work permits when detected.
However, only three brands, Next, New Look and Mothercare, were singled out as having detailed remediation policies in place for when unregistered refugees were found in their supply chains.
The report also said many firms’ auditing practices were not fit for purpose, and said buyers needed to be more aware of the risk of unauthorised subcontracting.
Only nine out of 28 brands admitted detecting unregistered refugees. Although this was an increase compared to four in February, BHRRC said its own research had found widespread exploitation of refugees, particularly in second and third tier suppliers.
“It is clear that the oversight most brands have beyond their first tier, and the quality of information that audits reveal, is not sufficient to detect serious compliance issues,” BHRRC said.
The two companies named in the recent Panorama expose, M&S and ASOS, were among those who reported finding refuges in their supply chains to BHRRC earlier this year.
BHRRC accepted there were problems with the work permit system introduced by the Turkish government earlier this year. The Foreign Trade Association estimated only 7,000 Syrians have work permits and 400,000 are working illegally across the agricultural, apparel and textiles industries.
However, it added that brands still needed to make it clear to suppliers that they would not be penalised or dropped for admitting they had unregistered migrants in their workforce, and they should place “clear expectations on suppliers to support refugees to secure a work permit and protect children found to be working in factories”.
BHRRC estimates almost 3m Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey. The US State Department estimates that 1m Syrian refugees entered Turkey between April 2015 and March 2016, alongside hundreds of thousands of refugees from other countries.
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