Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Refugee Sweat-shops

Only a tiny percentage of the estimated 3 million Syrians who have sought refuge in Turkey have work permits. To survive, they have to work illegally, without any rights, and for low wages. A made-to-measure workforce for the garment industry, and a reminder that one person's plight is often another's opportunity. Finding Syrian refugees and children making branded clothes for the UK market was relatively straightforward.

Some of them were being paid a little over £1 an hour, well below the Turkish minimum wage. The 15-year-old boy told me he wanted to be in school but he couldn't afford not to work. So he was spending more than 12 hours a day ironing clothes that are then shipped to the UK. Efforts are being made to get them into education but it's estimated that as many as 400,000 are working, many of them in the garment industry.

All the clothes brands say they regularly inspect the factories making their clothes to guarantee standards. Some of these audits are unannounced. But the Syrian boys explained how the factories got round this problem. When the auditors arrive, they are hidden out of sight. And when the auditors leave, they go back to work. As simple as that. Other factories may never be visited by auditors because as far as the brands are concerned, they don't make their clothes. They're part of the chain of sub-contractors who make up much of the garment industry in Turkey. They take orders from so-called first-tier factories - official suppliers to the brands - but often without the knowledge of the brands themselves.

Big fashion brands are profiting from refugees and their children. All the brands involved say they are completely opposed to child labour and any exploitation of Syrian refugees. But the BBC Panorama  investigation shows they sometimes don't know how or where their clothes are being made. And until the brands know exactly who is making their clothes, then this type of exploitation is almost certain to continue.

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