child labour was discovered in areas where poverty was at its highest

child labour was discovered in areas where poverty was at its highest

A pilot project to trace the garment and cotton supply chains of seven Dutch brands sourcing from Turkey has been unable to guarantee their products are free from child labour.

The project was carried out by the Fair Labour Association and the Development Workshop Cooperative – a civil society organisation based in Turkey – as part of the broader Dutch Working Group on Child Labour. Its research has highlighted poverty and low wages as the biggest drivers of child labour in Turkey.

The pilot initiative involved C&A and BSCI participants Coolinvestments, Du Pon & De Bruin, Just Brands, PVH, Varova Fashion Holding and WE Fashion joining forces to build a supply chain mapping model to identify suppliers and potential child labour risks within each tier of a company's garment and cotton supply chain.

The companies agreed to take part to try to establish where issues existed, so they could be addressed and remediated.

The researchers also point out that the issue of materials being sourced and products being developed with child labour is widespread throughout the industry – and not just restricted to the seven brands who took part in the research.

They add it is now possible to pinpoint the exact tier where child labour is happening for these seven brands because they allowed their entire supply chains to be mapped.  

The project was launched because the EU is Turkey's biggest buyer of garment and textiles, and an influx of people brought into Turkey following the Syrian refugee crisis increased the risks of child labour.

The team investigated all four tiers of the supply chain from the point of sale of the garment in the Netherlands back to the cotton farms.

Among some of the barriers the investigators noted were a communications breakdown between tiers two and three, with "about half" the tier-two participants "unwilling or unable" to provide deeper supply chain contacts. Fewer formal relationships between tiers two, three and four also made it "impossible for project staff to trace any cotton to its original tier-four source. On top of this, there was widespread use of subcontractors for cutting and sewing.

Beyond this, the project team mentioned "several children including the children of Syrian refugee families, working to harvest cotton, some as young as eight" on Turkish cotton farms.

"At this level of the supply chain, low wages and poverty drive the use of child labour. Families are often paid according to the amount of cotton they harvest in total, so as many family members as possible – including children – must work together to maximise income," reads the report.

"The research found that child labour is more likely to be found in the Sanliurfa area, not only because of the increased refugee population, but also because low levels of mechanisation require more workers. Project staff found that child labour is highest where mechanisation is lowest."

While the research team was able to report on working conditions through four tiers of the garment supply chain, and was able to document several instances of child labour at tier-four cotton farms, the pilot was unable to achieve one of its primary objectives – that of tracing a garment sold in the Netherlands back through all supply chain tiers to the source of cotton in Turkey. 

"For this reason, the project cannot guarantee that any products sold by participating companies are free from child labour, nor state definitively the level of risk of child labour faced by the specific companies participating in the project," the report concludes.

The project team is calling on companies to organise training for staff on responsible sourcing and purchasing practices; strengthen efforts to communicate labour standards; focus on areas with high refugee concentrations and advocate for governments to improve inspection and enforcement of labour standards.

Earlier this year the the Foreign Trade Association (FTA) organised an event urging the Turkish government and the clothing supply chain to work together to improve the plight of Syrian refugees working in the Turkish textile industry.

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