Retailers in UK Using Refugees in Turkish Factories

Retailers in UK Using Refugees in Turkish Factories

A recent BBC investigation inside Turkish garment factories alleges they uncovered Syrian refugees, including young children, working to make clothes for major retailers based in the UK including Marks & Spencers and ASOS.

In early 2016, multiple retailers were accused of exploitative labor practices involving Syrian refugees in their supply chains. Following the accusations, many of these companies committed to taking steps to end the labor rights violations.

Millions of Syrian refugees have come to Turkey where they face challenges as illegal workers attempting to earn a living. As a result, companies conducting business in the country are faced with the difficulty of addressing unethical labor in their supply chains. While companies often struggle with the complex task of gaining supply chain visibility, they are required to perform meaningful due diligence and are responsible for how their products are made.

According to BBC, refugees working in these factories were paid well below the required minimum compensation level and endured poor treatment throughout the duration of their employment. From unprotected exposure to harmful chemicals to excessively long working hours, these refugees were subjected to unethical employment practices.

The companies in question have claimed they did not know these activities were occurring in their supply chains. While one of the companies conducted Inspections prior to the investigation, they failed to uncover the presence of illegal and child refugee workers. The use of sub-contractors and middlemen in their supply chains may have been a factor in the illegal employment practices the refugees were subjected to.  

The Business & Human Rights Resource Center has conducted a follow-up survey and analysis of company actions to address exploitation and abuse in this context. Their report, released in October 2016, states there has been some important improvements, with an overall increase in company responsiveness and targeted action to address risks faced by refugees. However, the majority of companies are failing to detect refugees in their supply chains due to insufficient due diligence practices.

For example, companies using announced audits which do not go beyond the first tier of their supply chains might be at increased risk of unethical labor practices. For companies to properly address child and exploitative labor in their supply chains, they must be willing to dive deeper.

The report encourages companies to continue purchasing from Turkey, and to embrace this opportunity to move towards more responsible sourcing. The report provides three key recommendations for companies, which are relevant to all major apparel retailers. The recommendations are for companies to:

  1. Identify risks in the supply chain
  2. Implement a protection strategy for refugees (this could be applied to migrant workers in other contexts) developed through multi-stakeholder collaboration and recognizing the limitations of existing auditing processes
  3. Go beyond the factory floor to tackle wider issues and root causes

To help companies with the recommendations outlined above, a committee comprised of industry partners, subject matter experts, legal experts and other stakeholders created the Human Trafficking Risk Template (HTRT). The HTRT is an open-source industry standard template which facilitates data collection and analysis to help companies screen for potential human trafficking risks in their supply chains, a key first step in conducting meaningful due diligence. To learn more about the HTRT, click here.  

The Assent Compliance Anti-Human Trafficking Module aids companies with their ethical sourcing requirements. It streamlines and automates the entire communication process, easily accepts global templates such as the HTRT for seamless data integration and analysis, and more.

To learn how Assent can help with your ethical sourcing programs, contact us at

For more information on anti-human trafficking, visit our blog.