Photo: Jonas Gratzer

SOMO’s new fact sheet focuses on migrant labour in the textile and garment industry. It offers buying companies a set of recommendations to minimise the risk of exploiting migrant workers in their supply chain and to ensure that production is taking place under decent working conditions. The fact sheet is the sixth in a series about labour conditions in the textiles and garments industry and is made for the WellMade project.

Important workforce

Migrant workers are an increasingly important part of the global garment industry workforce. These workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation: they often do the same job as local workers but for lower wages and in more precarious conditions. Also, they face specific barriers to articulating and demanding their rights as workers. Abuse of migrant workers in textile and garment supply chains is a growing problem. There has been a dramatic shift from the use of permanent, regular employment to temporary and contract labour, often carried out by vulnerable groups of workers such as migrant workers.

Syrian refugees in Turkey

In Turkey, migrants from Eastern Europe and Central Asia have been working in the textile and garment industry for many years. They are a source of cheap, unregistered and therefore extremely vulnerable labour. However, the arrival of 1.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey has created a new wave of illegal employment, including Syrian refugee children. These Syrian refugees are particularly vulnerable to various forms of labour exploitation. They may be paid well below the minimum wage and not receive social security and other legally mandated benefits and work in unhealthy and dangerours conditions.

Pressure on prices and delivery

The rising number of migrants that make up the garment workforce is a consequence of the ‘fast fashion trend’ that dominates the industry. Brands and retailers offer ever faster changing collections for bargain prices and are therefore constantly searching for cheap production locations that can deliver quality items at short notice. The focus on low prices and short lead times translates into precarious working conditions (see other fact sheets in this series) and the need for ever cheaper labour.

Know your supply chain

International clothing brands and retailers have a responsibility to prevent and address human rights violations in their own operations and in their supply chains. To be able to fulfill this responsibility brands and retailers have to know where their products are being made. Without such knowledge, addressing human rights risks is impossible. Second, brands and retailers should enable – and not inhibit – respect for labour rights at their first and further tier suppliers. The fact sheet highlights how current business practices in the global garment industry are driving suppliers to hire migrant workers.

WellMade project

If you work for a brand, whether as a designer, in merchandising, or procurement, you can take steps to make your company’s supply chain better for everyone who works along it. Three years ago, Fair Wear Foundation, together with CNV Internationaal, Christliche Initiative Romero, Ethical Trading Initiative and SOMO, designed the WellMade programme to help professionals in the garment industry figure out where to start.

On 20 January, at the Ethical Fashion Show Berlin, WellMade presented its latest publication Improving working conditions in your clothing supply chain.