An apparel factory

Verité has worked in Turkey since 1999 and is currently focused on assessments and training in the apparel sector. Turkey is the third largest apparel supplier to the European Union after China and Bangladesh. Its proximity to Europe, strong production infrastructure, and entrepreneurial climate make it a top destination for global apparel and footwear brands.

For the last several years, Verité has collaborated on work in Turkey with Senior Consultant Pauline Tiffen and her team on-the-ground. She is the founder of Tiffen & Associates, and prior to that she founded two leading fair trade companies: Cafédirect and The Divine Chocolate Company. Ms. Tiffen leads Verité’s work in Turkey utilizing her expertise for rapid appraisals on issues of forced labor, designed for the specific risks of labor abuse currently present in the country.

As Ms. Tiffen shares with Vision, the informal nature of Turkey’s garment sector, influx of millions of Syrian refugees, and lack of transparency in apparel supply chains, has resulted in a widely unregulated environment rife with labor rights risks.

How are the different supply chain tiers set up in Turkey? 

Apparel production in Turkey is mostly informal. Well-established and organized firms, Tier 1 suppliers, head up clusters of smaller producers and workshops that are less capitalized or informed about their clients and requirements/standards. Early on we worked with a large German retailer that told us they had three main suppliers in Turkey. Research found the true number of worksites was 108.

How has the influx of refugees, in particular those from Syria, affected Turkey’s garment industry? 

Few Syrian or other migrants have work permits. As informal workers without the right to work, Syrian refugees are vulnerable to abuse. One practice reported is for a refugee to be given shift work on probation. After intensive labor for 1-2 weeks they are told there is no further job for them and they may not even be paid for the ‘privilege’ of the trial. The practice is so common it even has a nickname: “on besh” – Turkish for 15 (days). Informal work without benefits and protections (for accidents, sickness, etc.) is very common for both Syrians and Turks across the economy.

How are refugees recruited for work? 

Labor brokers – often family members – play a vital facilitating role for the factories and workshops. Word can spread by digital means too; SMS messages and Facebook updates among refugee communities are used to recruit workers. In the clusters around Tier 1 and Tier 2 producers, many workshops draw in labor on an ad hoc basis when needed to fulfill an order. These workers often come from the refugee population.

What is employment like for Syrian women and children in Turkey?

Verité’s research found an interesting distinction between Turkish and Syrian women in the workplace. Instead of working in factories or workshops, Syrian women will choose to stay home with their youngest children. Yet, they will encourage their husbands or older (male and female) children to work.

How do the different generations in Turkey think about labor rights?

Younger factory owners interviewed by Verité were more aware of ethical standards and of the general international frameworks for rights. They were more likely to make, or to have made, many of the financial investments and managerial changes needed to achieve compliance and favored supplier status than their fathers and grandfathers.

What are some positive stories coming out of Turkey?

For many years, production problems in the Turkish apparel sector have been somewhat pushed under the carpet. But now, brands are focusing intensive attention and support on this sector and some spokesmen for the export industry are more open about the most common non-compliances and the root causes. We see a big push for acceptance and a give-and-take to achieve more transparency in and around the ‘front-facing’ Tier 1 suppliers.

Audits, for example, are beginning to take into consideration the cluster of Tier 1 related production units (Tier 2/3 and subcontracted workshops). Under the ETI initiative to create a new Human Rights Platform in Turkey, several multi-stakeholder training and sector development working groups have been formed to develop a strategy to address labor rights issues.

For more information on our work and capacity in Turkey, please contact Pauline Tiffen.