Around 650,000 refugees are thought to be working in Turkey, and the garment industry is a key source of this employment

Around 650,000 refugees are thought to be working in Turkey, and the garment industry is a key source of this employment

The fashion industry needs to do more to prevent the exploitation of Syrian refugees in Turkish supply chains, a new report suggests, with suggested actions including a change in purchasing policies.

More leading fashion brands are making efforts to prevent the exploitation of Syrian refugees in their Turkish supply chains than last year, according to a report by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).

In 2016, only New Look and Next were judged to be taking sufficient action against exploitation. Yet in this year's survey of 37 European companies, New Look, Next, Asos, Inditex, Otto and SuperGroup ranked as the top brands.

At the other end of the scale, however, Aldi, Arcadia, Asda and LC Waikiki only provided minimal information with little evidence of action to stop exploitation of refugees. KiK, Mexx, New Yorker, River Island, s. Oliver and VF Corp failed to respond to the survey altogether.

"Work in Turkish garment factories provides a valuable lifeline for vulnerable refugees from Syria, but it also exposes them to unacceptable risks of discrimination and abuse," says Phil Bloomer, executive director of BHRRC. "Some high street fashion brands like Next, New Look, Asos and Zara have made progress in protecting workers, but too many like Aldi, Asda, and Topshop are lagging way behind – they should learn from the leaders, and quickly."

The report follows a similar one published by the UK charity last year, which called out fashion brands for ignoring the "endemic" abuse of Syrian refugees in Turkish clothing factories supplying European retailers.

Apparel brands "ignoring" refugee abuse in Turkey factories

According to the latest research, around 650,000 refugees are thought to be working in Turkey, and the garment industry is a key source of this employment. But most refugees don't have work permits, leading them to engage in informal work, which brings a greater risk of exploitation. The BHRRC says investigations have repeatedly revealed poor wages – with women being paid half the minimum wage, and consistently less than men, and child labour used by subcontractors of European fashion brands.

The companies at the top of the BHRRC ranking are better at identifying risks of abuse in their long and complex supply chains. They have targeted plans to protect refugee workers, and mechanisms to deal with grievances and complaints, and they talk to workers' and refugee organisations.

The survey revealed some notable advances. For example, 15 brands now have a specific policy prohibiting discrimination and exploitation of Syrian refugees – up from nine in 2016. Brands have also strengthened and increased their audits of suppliers in Turkey: nine reported using majority unannounced audits, up from one last year. Brands are also getting better at actually identifying the Syrian workers in their supply chains – a crucial first step to ending abuse, the BHRRC says.

Yet the UK charity says over half the companies assessed need to improve in at least one of five areas, with many failing to look in detail at systemic issues that drive exploitation, like the prices they pay for products, the demands they put on suppliers, and the risk of undeclared subcontracting, which sees manufacturing outsource to smaller, riskier factories without the buyer's knowledge.

"The best practice highlighted in this report needs to become the minimum standard across Europe," adds Bloomer. "If they could work on decent terms in the garment industry, refugees in Turkey and beyond would have a chance at a better life. We welcome the advances by leading companies, but Europe's fashion brands need to ensure the price paid for the clothes on the high street ensures a living wage for vulnerable refugees and their fellow Turkish workers."

The report recommends garment brands sourcing from Turkey should: better identify and assess worker abuse; implement refugee protection strategies (paying attention to the unique risks faced by women refugees); support Turkish suppliers to formally employ Syrian refugees; change purchasing policies ensure they are not exacerbating exploitation in Turkey; and support civil society, trade unions and workers.

The BHRRC also recommends companies across the industry could also increase their collective impact if they collaborated to influence both suppliers and governments to better support Syrian refugees.