Statement on Panorama 'The Refugees who make our clothes'

The Fairtrade Foundation responds to BBC's Panorama's programme, Undercover: The Refugees Who Make Our Clothes, aired Monday 24 October.

Panorama went undercover to find sweatshops making clothes for the British high street and uncovered how tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and children are working illegally in the Turkish garment industry. Despite working in the supply chains of some of the best-known brands, the refuges are often paid very little, work in harsh conditions and have no rights.

Subindu Garkhel, Cotton Product Manager at the Fairtrade Foundation said: “the garment industry represents a great opportunity for a country’s economic development, and in turn that of its people, but only if done in a way that  respects workers’ rights in terms of safety and working conditions as well as the wages they are paid.

“Worker exploitation - including child labour - is completely unacceptable. Unfortunately, the refugee crisis presents Turkey and sourcing companies with a unique and complex set of circumstances. In this situation, special care needs to be taken to ensure workers are protected. It appears that typical compliance systems are being circumvented via unauthorised sub-contracting, so companies should work with the ETI to better understand the situation and work with local partners to help minimise the likelihood of abuse occurring and when it is discovered, ensure a meaningful and timely response.

“Since the introduction of Fairtrade certified cotton in 2005, Fairtrade’s goal has been to extend the Fairtrade approach to the entire value supply chain for textiles to address the challenges in the textile industry. This comprehensive approach engages producers and workers in the chain to bring about better wages and working conditions, and engages brands to commit to fair terms of trade.

“Those operators must in turn ensure that subcontractors are compliant with core aspects of the standard. Brand owners purchasing finished textiles are also required by the standard to have a contract with a National Fairtrade Organization or Fairtrade International as well as with their suppliers, committing themselves to fair, reliable and predictable terms of trade to facilitate long term investments in the improvement of workers’ conditions. This full supply chain approach provides a framework to provide consistency and transparency within the textile supply chain.”

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Susannah Henty

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