The global Pay Your Workers coalition, of over 280 unions and labour rights organisations, have said international brands sourcing from Türkiye, together with factory owners and the Turkish Government, must ensure workers don’t face additional financial hardship on top of the suffering inflicted by the earthquake.

“We call upon brands and retailers to pay their suppliers on time; to ensure workers receive their full, regular wages (or severance in the case of layoffs); and to make sure factories are not reopened until they are verified as safe.”

The coalition says many factories have reopened too soon, fearing financial penalties from brands for late order delivery. One week after the first earthquake, factory owners in the heavily affected areas were already urging workers, many of whom had lost family members or their homes, to return to work.

Although many newer garment factories weathered the catastrophe and initially even opened their doors to people seeking shelter, production was halted in many places due to damaged infrastructure and workers being unable to come to work.

“It is of utmost importance that workers who cannot return to their jobs have sufficient income to survive, especially in this time of hardship,” Pay Your Workers says.

Türkiye workers who are unable to go to work currently receive 133 TL (US$7) per day from the state. The coalition says this is “far from sufficient to sustain one person, let alone a family”.

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“It is very possible that some brands may now refuse to pay suppliers when delivery is late, even though delays are a direct and unavoidable result of the earthquake. This leaves their suppliers scrambling and further shifting the economic burden onto workers. It is critical that brands do not repeat Covid-19 pandemic era patterns of forcing suppliers to fend for themselves. Brands must manage this crisis responsibly and heed their obligations to suppliers and workers.”

Factory owners in Türkiye are already using the post-earthquake chaos as a pretext to offload risks onto their employees. This week, workers of the Marbit Tekstil factory in Adana, producing for Zara and LC Waikiki, protested after being dismissed and then being forced to accept compensation far below what they are owed.

What are the steps Pay Your Workers have outlined for brands to protect Türkiye workers?

  1. Ensure that workers who lose their jobs, despite the official ban on dismissal, receive their full severance. Brands have the power to ensure their suppliers pay severance and the financial resources to ensure they can afford to do it. Brands must not allow employers to use the earthquake as an excuse to deny workers their legally owed compensation. Additionally, brands should sign the Pay Your Workers agreement, which includes a severance guarantee fund.
  2. Ensure wage continuation for workers. Brands should require, and financially enable, suppliers that are unable to operate to keep workers employed and pay their full wages for the next six months (on top of the limited government payments), rather than dismiss workers (which has been explicitly prohibited).
  3. Pay in full and on time for orders and communicate that they will accept delays without penalty. Brands should not force workers and suppliers in Türkiye, who are already dealing with the human tragedy of the earthquake, to bear the financial burden of the crisis, while the brands themselves can easily absorb profit losses. Even though contracts between brands and their suppliers are generally crafted primarily in the interest of the brands, now brands have an opportunity to demonstrate that supply chain risk does not need to be pushed down onto those already hit hardest.
  4. Where needed, work with and enable suppliers to assist displaced workers with rental costs and ensure injured workers and families of workers who died receive compensation for medical costs and loss of income.
  5. Insist that factories in the disaster-struck area do not not re-open without a thorough engineering inspection. If a structure is deemed unsafe, brands should accept shipment delays without penalty and financially support remediation of the building.
  6. Use their influence with prominent suppliers and the Turkish government to fight discrimination against Syrian refugees in the region. As vulnerable as every worker is in this time of crisis, the precarity of the situation is higher for Syrian refugees in the area, many of whom are employed in the garment and textile industry. Given that many of them are informally employed, they face heightened risks in standing up for their rights. This is a reality that brands and factory owners must take into account.