In February 2023, more than 47 000 people have been killed by four earthquakes in Türkiye and neighbouring Syria
On 6 February, Türkiye and Syria were struck by two powerful earthquakes – the first striking in the early hours of Monday while people were asleep, instantly trapped under the rubble, followed by the second at around 1:30 PM local time (10:30 GMT). The epicentre was around 26km east of the Turkish city of Nurdagi at a depth of about 18km on the East Anatolian Fault, which runs from the southwest to the northwest of the south-eastern border of Türkiye. The quakes radiated towards the northeast, devastating central Türkiye and Syria.
According to Fair Wear’s database (cities: Kahramanmaras; Mersin; Malatya; Sanliurfa-Eyyübiye; Adiyaman; Malatya – Yesilyurt; Sanliurfa; Mersin Akdeniz), there is an estimate of 21 factories supplying Fair Wear members in total located in the area affected by the earthquakes.
We have received varying information from the Fair Wear team – in some areas, factory buildings are damaged, others have become cracked, and some have escaped damage entirely. Fair Wear’s team in Türkiye is in contact with factory managers to assess the impact on suppliers and workers. Some workers and their relatives are said to be trapped under the wreckage of their homes. Our thoughts and sympathies are with all those affected. Fair Wear will continue to engage with our local teams and partners, trade unions and labour rights organisations to understand the impact on workers and supply chains. We will provide support to workers by giving them access to information/ local legislation in the process of returning to work and by operating a local complaints helpline.
To support our member brands in this particularly challenging time, we have outlined and shared some suggested actions, which you can find here.
The refugee crisis presents complicated challenges for Türkiye’s growing garment industry
Türkiye’s garment industry at a glance
Türkiye is the eighth largest garment exporter in the world and the garment industry is the country’s second largest industry. Responsible for a large proportion of total export, garment production can be found in almost every region and city of Türkiye, with Istanbul leading, followed by Denizli, Izmir and Bursa. Türkiye apparel and garment exports are expected to continue to grow in the future.
Labour issues in Türkiye
Türkiye has long had a close relationship with the European Union and is already familiar with many international workplace standards. While this is good news, improvements are still needed in many areas. Small and medium-sized factories with a wide sub-contractor chain are the norm across the country and working conditions typically get worse down the supply chain. The result is widespread unregistered employment, with estimates showing 60% of the total workforce as unregistered. This means countless workers who are left without access to social security, job security or the ability to organise and advocate for themselves.
Türkiye is also home to the world’s largest refugee population. As of 2019, more than 3.5 million Syrians were reported to be living in the country and an estimated 98% of Syrian workers were employed illegally. Huge numbers of Syrian refugees accept dangerous working conditions and excessive overtime shifts because they have no other alternative. At Fair Wear, we’ve seen firsthand how this has created an increase in human rights violations in a short period, including an increase in child labour which was previously rare in the country.
What Fair Wear is doing
Fair Wear has been active in Türkiye since 2022. It is one of our priority countries, with more than 170 factories producing garments for more than 45 member brands.
Having witnessed how the refugee crisis is impacting Türkiye, we are focusing our efforts in the country on Syrian refugee garment workers. At the end of 2016, we started a Human Rights Protection Programme and Workplace Education Programme for these workers. These programmes provide them with access to our complaints helplines in Arabic and help them become registered workers.
Our mission is to make all Fair Wear member brands operating in the region well aware of the risks of sourcing in Türkiye and the need to take action while also making workers aware of their rights so that they can report violations and take matters into their own hands.
Interested in calculating labour minute value and product costing for this country? Check out our country calculators here.
In 2022, the RVO funded Fair Wear to conduct research on transforming the business practices of three Fair Wear member brands – King Louie, Schijvens and Kuyichi – and 25 of their Turkish suppliers. While Fair Wear refocussed efforts in Türkiye to ensure the safety of the workers in our member brand supply chains following the devastating earthquakes in February 2023, the project was temporarily put on hold.
The aim of the project is to identify, analyse, and test specific policies and actions that garment brands and suppliers can implement to improve their human rights due diligence (HRDD) and responsible business conduct around two focus areas:
- payment of a living wage; and,
- gender equality, with a focus on violence and harassment.
Three reports will be published in May and June 2023.
To learn more, please see here.
In 2022, the Republic of Türkiye asked the international community to recognise the country by its official name and to drop the more widely used anglicised version. The name change was made official through a request submitted to the UN Secretary-General by the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in May 2022. Though there are instances where ‘Turkey’ has been used on earlier publications, Fair Wear has adopted these changes and all future written communications will use ‘Türkiye’.