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H&M Urged to Aid Undocumented Syrian Refugees in Turkish Factories

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More than 3 million people flooded into Turkey from war-torn Syria in 2016. Thousands of them have found work in the country’s garment industry. However, the majority are undocumented, which leaves workers vulnerable to a host of labor abuses, according to a new report.

“Invisible Workers—Syrian Refugees in Turkish Garment Factories” explores the fate befalling the refugees and how five specific clothing brands—H&M, KappAhl, Lindex, Gina Tricot and Varner—are responding.

Published by human rights groups Fair Action and Future in Our Hands, the report indicates only 7,000 of the 250,000-400,000 Syrian workers have work permits. Exact statistics for the number of workers is difficult to obtain, as many work for subcontractors. This also explains why the brands in question report many fewer of these cases.

The report surmises that the number of documented workers is so low because factory owners would have to provide them worth employment contracts and at least minimum wage. And without a social security card, these workers are also unable to unionize.

“Syrian workers are generally earning under minimum wage, and do not get social security. They have to accept any working conditions offered to them and can get dismissed at any time,” says Engin Celik, organizing officer at the Turkish trade union Deriteks, which organizes workers in the garment sector.

Workers profiled in the report said wages are far below minimum wage, the hours are long, the work is dangerous and the protective gear insufficient.

To alleviate the problem, H&M and Varner are communicating with their Turkish suppliers and conducing audits that reach beyond their first the first manufacturing tier. Both companies also work with local non-governmental organizations (NGO) to find support for any undocumented worker of which they become aware. Further, H&M provides training for its first and second tier suppliers on the risks Syrian refugees face.

Lindex instructs its suppliers to ensure all workers earn at least minimum wage. The company also trains first tier manufacturers and works with NGOs. Neither KappAhl or Gina Tricot reported having similar measures in place.

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