HomeBussinessCan Türkiye’s textile industry bounce back?

Can Türkiye’s textile industry bounce back?

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A report by Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), released in January, suggested that the earthquake exacerbated and exposed already difficult working conditions and violations of workers’ rights in the textile sector, including concerns related to health and safety, instances of harassment and inadequate wages.

These issues have been identified in other exporting nations. “In countries that rely heavily on the garment industry, we see people without any real social safety net and for an industry that produces billions of dollars of profit every year, it’s indicative of a system that is severely broken. It generates so much wealth, but you have people working within the supply chain where if a disaster happens, they have nothing to fall back on,” says Elizabeth L Cline, lecturer of fashion policy at Columbia University.

Following the Türkiye earthquake, more than half of the respondents to the CCC survey reported damage to their homes and said both factories and the government failed to provide sufficient assistance. “One year later, tens of thousands of workers and their families still live in containers in these areas with little hope of securing permanent housing in the foreseeable future,” says Mehmet Türkmen, president of workers’ union Birtek-Sen.

Just over a third of workers who responded to the CCC survey also said they received no wages during enforced time off work. ITHIB refuted these claims. “The factories of many of our businesses were inoperable, despite severe operational disruptions, numerous companies continued to pay their workers for months, reflecting a deep-seated respect for labour rights and the human aspect of the industry,” says Öksüz. “While the industry as a whole is committed to upholding the highest standards, individual instances of non-compliance or shortcomings do not define the entire sector. It is not possible for workers to be victimised in a sector where social compliance and sustainability audits are multifaceted.”

Türkmen of Birtek-Sen claims significant action is rarely taken over grievances. “If an issue is reported to a brand, it takes some brands weeks before they respond — and weeks for a garment worker is a considerable amount of time. It results in financial losses for them if they’ve been wrongfully terminated or are striking before an issue is resolved,” he says.

The role of brands

Türkmen emphasises that these challenges persist because brands rarely visit or conduct audits, remaining largely disconnected from the processes within the factories with which they are contracted. For garment workers, there is apprehension about the future. “If orders start to increase, it will only mean more pressure on workers, which in turn leads to worsening conditions and lower wages,” Türkmen warns.

Despite the documented efforts of global fashion companies to address the aftermath of the disaster and to prevent the mistreatment of vulnerable workers, surveys conducted by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) and the Middle Eastern Technical University (METU) regarding their purchasing practices revealed responses considered unsatisfactory.

While union membership is legally permitted in Türkiye, garment workers still face repercussions for joining an independent union like Birtek-Sen. Last November, nearly 500 workers from Özak Tekstil, a major apparel manufacturer and supplier to Levi Strauss, protested at a factory in Urfa after a colleague was dismissed for switching unions at the end of last year — many were sacked.

“The real issue is the power imbalance in the supply chain. It can override national laws because governments can feel pressured to look the other way when it comes to their own labour laws just because they’re fearful of losing business,” says Columbia University’s Cline. “You have these extraordinarily powerful brands at the top of the supply chain [with] all of these incentives for brands to not really show real responsibility.”

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