Turkey has won praise for its “open door” policy towards 2.5 million Syrian refugees within its borders and this month it was announced that they would be given the right to work. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian adults in Turkey already work for low pay far below the minimum wage of 1,300 Turkish lira (£309) per month. Many children are employed as cheap labour on farms and factories in breach of Turkish and international laws that forbid those under 12 from working. Children aged 13-14 are banned from all but light work.
The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), a non-profit organisation that monitors company ethics, warns that few brands are taking adequate steps to ensure that vulnerable refugees are not “fleeing from conflict into exploitative working conditions”.
The BHRRC asked 28 major brands last month about their Turkish suppliers and their strategies for combating the exploitation of Syrian children and adults. H&M and Next were the only ones which revealed that they had identified child labour over the course of 2015. Both companies said that they had taken action to return the children to education.
The BHRRC said that it was alarmed by the responses, warning: “Only a few brands appear to have engaged with the extent and the complexity of these issues in their Turkish supply base; even fewer report taking action to protect these vulnerable workers.” It said that many companies appeared to have an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to auditing their factories, conducting preannounced visits that could allow factory managers to cover up abuses.
Phil Bloomer, executive director of the BHRRC, said: “No brands want child labour in their supply chain, but what matters is how vigorous they are in looking for it and what they do when they find it. Given reports from the ground indicate refugee child labour is common in Turkey, it is positive that two brands in our report identified this problem and took action to protect the children. We need all brands to show equal vigour in eliminating this curse.”