AMSTERDAM – Aggressive brand purchasing practices are indirectly leading to garment worker abuses and the exploitation of Syrian migrant labour in the Turkish garment sector according to new research. The report found that short-term relationships drive precarious employment and excessive overtime, price pressures drive down workers’ wages, unrealistic turnaround times drives work to unscrupulous sub-contractors, while financial penalties further undermine supplier profits.
The report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre claims that without systemic action by European clothing brands to tackle the root causes of exploitation, abuses will worsen, while the “mendacity of social audits that conceal abuse in supply chains will continue.”
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Turkey has accepted more than 3.6 million Syrians and over 650,000 are estimated to be working in the country’s garment industry, the majority of which are undocumented workers in the lower tiers of the supply chain. The Turkish garment industry is the third largest clothing supplier to the EU and is expecting to grow its exports by 10 per cent in 2019.
The BHRRC claims that while a small but growing group of brands are taking proactive steps to tackle exploitation, the majority are still failing to take steps to prevent abuse, particularly beyond their first-tier suppliers.
Its report provides insight into the type of practices that are creating conditions for the exploitation of Syrian refugees and other garment workers in Turkey. The NGO carried out in-depth interviews with five Turkish tier one suppliers to European clothing brands, to understand the stresses they experience that lead them to undertake high risk practices. Say the authors: “Our research revealed that even where brands take action, they often fail to tackle the underlying cause of exploitation: their own purchasing practices. They undermine their own due diligence efforts to improve working conditions in Turkish factories.”
The report claims many brands continue to place intolerable price pressures on suppliers. Add the authors: “Suppliers say constant pressure by brands to reduce price undermines their ability to offer decent working conditions. One supplier admitted accepting orders below cost and others remarked that this practice was common in the industry. Most of our interviewees said brands had failed to factor the 2019 26 per cent national minimum wage hike into their pricing.”
The authors also claim suppliers reported having to agree to unachievable turnaround times to secure orders; to try and meet these deadlines they subcontract work to smaller factories, require excessive overtime, and use high numbers of casual workers for short periods.
Adds the report: “In these conditions, second and third tier producers are usually excluded from social auditing to meet brands’ human rights compliance standards.”
The authors claims that the general approach to cost cutting by brands leads to heightened business risk, which is then passed down to the weakest link in the supply chain – “the most vulnerable workers, who are disproportionately women, refugees and migrants. It is these groups, and Turkish casual workers that fall outside trade union and collective bargaining rights. These are the practices that need to be reformed in order for workers, especially refugees, to fully realise the benefits of positive efforts that have been introduced so far, including integration programmes and enhanced due diligence commitments.”
Full report: HERE