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Turkey 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 Turkey, with Istanbul leading, followed by Denizli, Izmir and Bursa. Turkey’s apparel and garment exports are expected to continue to grow in the future.
Turkey 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.
Turkey 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.
Having witnessed how the refugee crisis is impacting Turkey, 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 Turkey 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.