Blog: ‘We can do great things together’ - Fair Wear’s Ruth Vermeulen in Turkey

Ruth Vermeulen started working for Fair Wear Foundation as member of the verification team in December. She just got back from Turkey, where she received big news.

“My first trip to Turkey as an FWF verification coordinator was like a crash course on the Turkish garment industry. It showed me all the ins and outs of multi-stakeholder exchange and cooperation, with interests as much often divergent as shared.

This week stressed for me the complexity of the garment sector. At the same time it showed that national context is essential. According to international reports the new labour law in Turkey is not compliant with the ILO’s core labour standards. This has a big impact on the room to manoeuver for brands who want to do well.

We first met with our local audit supervisor, who had just been dealing with a factory owner who refused an audit. In exchange for the audit, the owner wanted long term commitments from the brand, which only sources 10% of its turnover in his factory.

Then I tried to get hold of another brand of FWF, to enquire about a recent complaint at their supplier over harassment and discrimination of unionists, and wage negotiations that got stuck. One year before we had already received a complaint on the dismissal of union members at the same factory. That complaint had eventually been resolved, but the underlying issues clearly had not.

Big smile

When we met the local union rep the day after, we were welcomed with a big smile. The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) had been concluded after all, with great benefits for the workers! It makes this factory the only knitting facility in Turkey with a CBA!

After a tug-of-war of four years, the unionist seemed very capable to think in win-win terms. He said that bigger buyers should return as clients of this factory, now that it improved the condition of the workers. And in return for the positive steps by the factory, prices should be increased.

The union rep was very positive about the FWF method; its prompt and active follow-up on complaints, and about the FWF brand involved, Mayerline, which convinced the factory to make a positive move, even though it only buys 10% of its turnover here.  ‘The FWF Code is not just a piece of paper. It is truly about changing reality. We can do great things together’, he said.


Moving on to have dinner with another FWF brand, who was visiting suppliers to convince them to take part in the Workplace Education Programme. When I told her that agents, factories and even unions think that good factories should be rewarded by buyers, she asked: ‘Why should we have to pay more, only because they abide by the law? They should implement the law anyway! They make a profit just like us.’ But what if the reality is that NOT following the law is commercially advantageous? This clearly presents a dilemma.

Step by step
After talking to factory owners, agents, FWF brands, other brands and unions, what struck me most was that there is as much unity as there is diversity in interests. It is a hopeful sign that all stakeholders appreciate and accept the added value of the Fair Wear formula: step by step improvements, commitment and shared responsibilities. It does not replace local mechanisms of dialogue, law enforcement and sound industrial relations, but is a valuable complementary tool.

Lots of challenges can be found in Turkey, so there is a lot to do for me at Fair Wear Foundation. Turkey is already a country after my own heart.”

Read more about the first CBA in a Turkish knitting factory here