You would think that in 2016, child sweatshops would be a thing of the past. However BBC Panorama have found that in fact this is not the case and it’s happening a lot closer to home. The investigation found that Syrian refugees as young as six were working in clothing factories across Turkey. To bring this even closer to home these factories were producing for top companies in the UK, including M&S and Zara. Meaning that the clothes that you are wearing right now could have been made by the hands of a ten year old refugee, working a twelve hour shift for as little as £1 per hour.
More and more, clothing labels are starting to read “made in turkey”. The reason for this is due to the fact that Turkey can provide the top clothing brands with the cheap products they are demanding. It is estimated that around 60% of Turkey’s workforce is unregistered and this allows for easy exploitation as there is little or no government protection for these workers. To add to this the recent refugee crisis means that there are around 3 million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey, leaving them open to Turkish employers ready to exploit their desperation for work. These refugees know that they are being subjected to abusive conditions but they feel as if they have no other choice in order to feed themselves and their families.
The investigation found that workers in these sweatshops worked as long as thirteen hours a day in hazardous and sometimes life threatening conditions. It showed the devastating effect on one women whose husband had died in a factory accident but she had no other option but to continue to send their children to work in similar factories, otherwise they would starve. The journalist was clearly taken back by speaking to one child who was reduced to tears saying “I want to find another job, otherwise I can’t live”. It seemed as if the machines that they were using in the factories were more valuable than the workers lives.
Brands that were found using these suppliers were ASOS, Next, Mango, Zara and M&S. They are able to get away with this by hiding behind the smokescreen of the complicated supply chain. They have contracts with one supplier for a certain amount of products but this supplier will then have many sub-contractors which the top brands are “unaware” off and this is where the Syrian refugees can be found. It is unacceptable that M&S who constantly boast their commitment to ethical standards of production could allow this to happen.
All these companies say that they conduct regular un-announced checks on their suppliers but these don’t work because suppliers will hide the refugees from the auditors. However, if the BBC were able to find all of this information in a matter of days then surely these multi-million pound companies should be aware of what’s happening in their own supply chains.
Since the documentary was aired the businesses mentioned have started to conduct their own investigations but have not fully owned up to all of the incidents exposed. However this is not enough, these brands have a responsibility to know where their clothes are coming from and who is producing them. There is absolutely no excuse for clothing businesses to not know where their clothes are coming from and more pressure needs to be put on them to stop this from continuing in the future.
By Shona Augustinus
(Images from Green America & the Telegraph)