Apparel brands must ensure workers in Turkey are paid and kept safe
Many factories have reopened recklessly soon, fearing financial penalties from brands for late order delivery. One week after the first earthquake, factory owners in the heavily affected areas were already urging workers, many of whom had lost family members or their homes, to return to work. Reports have already come in about garment workers not being allowed to freely move out of a factory during aftershocks in the area.
Even though many newer garment factories weathered the catastrophe and initially even opened their doors to people seeking shelter, production was halted in many places due to damaged infrastructure and workers being unable to come to work. It is of utmost importance that workers who cannot return to their jobs have sufficient income to survive, especially in this time of hardship. Workers who are unable to go to work currently receive 133 TL (US$7) per day from the state, which is far from sufficient to sustain one person, let alone a family.
It is very possible that some brands may now refuse to pay suppliers when delivery is late, even though delays are a direct and unavoidable result of the earthquake, leaving their suppliers scrambling and further shifting the economic burden onto workers. It is critical that brands do not repeat Covid-19 pandemic era patterns of forcing suppliers to fend for themselves. Brands must manage this crisis responsibly and heed their obligations to suppliers and workers.
Factory owners in Turkey are already using the post-earthquake chaos as a pretext to offload risks onto their employees. Last week, workers of the Marbit Tekstil factory in Adana, producing for Zara and LC Waikiki, protested after being dismissed and then being forced to accept compensation far below what they are owed.
This response is familiar from the pandemic when vast numbers of factories closed, leaving workers without legally owed severance. During the pandemic, brands’ behaviour spurred the formation of the global Pay Your Workers coalition, of over 280 unions and labour rights organisations around the world. This coalition urges brands to pay into a severance guarantee fund and ensure workers are paid what they are owed. The current crisis in Turkey once more shows the need for brands to take responsibility to ensure workers receive their full legally owed severance.
Over 70 international brands source from the affected region. They include Benetton, Boohoo, Esprit, Inditex (Zara), JD Williams, Mango, Marks & Spencer, New Look, and Primark. We expect these and all other brands sourcing from the area to:
1. Ensure that workers who lose their jobs, despite the official ban on dismissal, receive their full severance. Brands have the power to ensure their suppliers pay severance and the financial resources to ensure they can afford to do it. Brands must not allow employers to use the earthquake as an excuse to deny workers their legally owed compensation. Additionally, brands should sign the Pay Your Workers agreement, which includes a severance guarantee fund.
2. Ensure wage continuation for workers. Brands should require, and financially enable, suppliers that are unable to operate to keep workers employed and pay their full wages for the next six months (on top of the limited government payments), rather than dismiss workers (which has been explicitly prohibited).
3. Pay in full and on time for orders and communicate that they will accept delays without penalty. Brands should not force workers and suppliers in Turkey, who are already dealing with the human tragedy of the earthquake, to bear the financial burden of the crisis, while the brands themselves can easily absorb profit losses. Even though contracts between brands and their suppliers are generally crafted primarily in the interest of the brands, now brands have an opportunity to demonstrate that supply chain risk does not need to be pushed down onto those already hit hardest.
4. Where needed, work with and enable suppliers to assist displaced workers with rental costs and ensure injured workers and families of workers who died receive compensation for medical costs and loss of income.
5. Insist that factories in the disaster-struck area do not not re-open without a thorough engineering inspection. If a structure is deemed unsafe, brands should accept shipment delays without penalty and financially support remediation of the building.
6. Use their influence with prominent suppliers and the Turkish government to fight discrimination against Syrian refugees in the region. As vulnerable as every worker is in this time of crisis, the precarity of the situation is higher for Syrian refugees in the area, many of whom are employed in the garment and textile industry. Given that many of them are informally employed, they face heightened risks in standing up for their rights, a reality that brands and factory owners must take into account.
This statement was first published by Temiz Giysi Kampanyasi and the Pay Your Workers coalition.
Open Supply Hub provides a map of factories in the affected area.
The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) is collecting news about the impact of the earthquake on garment and textile workers.