Syrian refugees working in Turkey’s garment sector

Turkey has seen an influx of almost three million Syrian refugees. With few legal opportunities to earn money, many seek work in Turkey’s ‘informal’ garment sector. Here, refugees – including children – can be subject to poor working conditions and very low wages.

Turkey’s apparel, textiles and leather industries

Turkey’s popularity as an international sourcing destination has grown due to its ability to produce high-quality products quickly. It is now the third largest exporter of garments and leather goods to Europe after Bangladesh and China.

However, it is an industry with a large, unregulated sector. Traditionally, workers have also faced many difficulties. These include long working hours, poor wages and gender discrimination.

7%                      The sector’s share of Turkey’s GDP.

US$12 billion      The sector’s export value to Turkey.

1.04 million         Number of registered workers in the regulated sector.

1 million              Estimated number of workers thought to be working informally, of whom an increasing number are Syrian refugees.

Why we are working in Turkey

The mass movement of Syrian refugees into Turkey – and their participation in the labour market – has made endemic problems worse.

In late 2014, member brands approached ETI expressing concerns about issues they were seeing in their Turkish supply chains arising from the illegal employment of Syrian refugees. They asked for our assistance in addressing this.

As responsible businesses, ETI members wanted to see an end to exploitation and to maintain their sourcing operations in Turkey.

Following detailed discussions, and in collaboration with the Fair Labor Association, we convened a meeting in March 2015 in Istanbul to agree a roadmap for action.

The meeting included companies, global and local trade unions and NGOs, UN agencies including the ILO, UNHCR and IOM and representatives of Turkey’s Ministry of Labour. 

How we are tackling poor employment practices

Initially, we lobbied the Turkish authorities to allow refugees work permits. This was legislated in January 2016. With company funding, we also published guidance for refugees on their employment rights and sponsored a Ministry of Labour communications campaign.

Yet significant concerns remain. So far, take up of work permits has been slow, for example. This is thought to be due to application restrictions and registration issues. Consequently, child labour and illegal working remain serious issues.

Now, with funding from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office and companies, we have put in place a 3-year programme. The aim is to embed reform and encourage better employment conditions for both Syrian and Turkish workers.

Specifically, company members agree to:

  • Develop internal policies.
  • Enhance their audit procedures in the first and second tiers of their supply chains – and many are now doing more.
  • Put in place effective remediation where unregistered Syrian workers are found to be employed.

More broadly, we are helping to establish a local Business and Human Rights Platform. This will create a space for local stakeholders to discuss ways forward and develop a multi-tiered action plan for tackling issues.

Simultaneously, we will be developing business and human rights due diligence resources to give brands and retailers more guidance.

We will also be adapting ETI workplace social dialogue models on worker/management relations for piloting in Turkey. Additionally, will support the development of better grievance mechanisms.

From our blog

As part of our wider outreach we blog regularly on issues on the news agenda offering opinion and comment. Scroll through our blog pages here.

Turkey programme group members

Non ETI members are welcome to engage with the programme group and currently 26 companies are members in addition to trade unions and NGOs.


Trade Unions and NGOs

ASDA, ASOS, Boden, Bonmarche, Burberry, C&A, Debenhams, Fatface, H&M, Hobbs, Inditex, John Lewis Partnership, Mayoral, M&S, Monsoon, Mothercare, N Brown Group, New Look, Next, Orsay, Primark, Shop Direct, SuperGroup, Tchibo, Tesco, White Company, Whistles, ZLabels.


IndustriALL & Affiliates (Teksif, Oz-Ipklis, Deri-Teks, DISK-Tekstil)

CARE International, Oxfam GB as well as local women’s rights and refugee rights organisations


ETI contact

Kadir Uysal – Country Programme Manager, Turkey
[email protected]

Martin Buttle, Apparel and Textiles programme lead
[email protected]