Cheap Fashion: Syrian Refugees Working for UK Brands

If you know a British pop singer Lilly Allen, you might have heard about her recent spotlight in the media after she publicly apologised for her country (England) to refugees she met while visiting Calais refugee camp last month. She apologised on behalf of her country for making it difficult for the refugees to access the Great Britain. And guess what? This wasn’t taken as a nice gesture, publicly; she was shamed and bullied on the Internet for making her own opinion universal truth. Oh well, I thought, one more post-Brexit anger rant. But wait for it – there is more to Britain than that. Cheap fashion, here you come.

Syrian refugees are good enough as cheap labour for cheap fashion

So the Britain shot the doors to the refugees, but the UK fashion brands are still using their cheap fashion labour to make their ‘British’ clothes. That sounds like a sick reality to me, don’t you think? The story goes like that.

This week the UK has been in a refugee-related scandal once again. A leading investigative journalism BBC program Panorama has published their investigation of Turkey garment factories working with leading UK fashion brands such as Marks & Spencers and ASOS. After an undercover investigation, Panorama revealed that the factories producing Marks & Spencers and ASOS garments employed illegal Syrian refugees, including children.

Made in Turkey in hazardous conditions

Turkey has become a major garment manufacturer to UK based companies due to the proximity to Europe and fast turnaround. Unfortunately, with almost three millions of Syrian refugees flooding the country, it has also become a common practice to hire illegal factory workers paying them £1/hour (in cash, on the street), which is way below Turkey’s minimum living wage. The refugee crisis is not going to solve itself, that we know already, and without a proper (financial) support and ethical treatment, Syrians are forced to take whatever jobs are available for them, even if they’re children. This problem is way too broad and serious for me to discuss here.

The problem I’m analysing here is a lack of control in cheap fashion supply-chain. Companies like Marks & Spencers, ASOS, Zara or Mango (that are also manufacturing in the same Turkish factories that Panorama journalists were visiting), may be trying to oversee their suppliers but they usually fail in doing so. The most common excuse – the factories were subcontracting other factories that the contractors (big fashion brands) were not aware of. And this might be the case. However, stories like this one flash media too often to see it as a ‘one off’ problem. And if we know already – cheap factories that manufacture our clothes are subcontracting even cheaper factories to manufacture our clothes in horrible conditions (hazardous conditions to be precise), should the next step be to monitor the supply chain more closely? Or even better, to change the rotten supply chain and start all over again, taking companies like Patagonia or People Tree as an example?

There’s light at the end of the tunnel for the ethical fashion

This particular story, though, has a bright side, which makes me very happy!

After the Panorama’s investigation, A spokesperson for Marks & Spencers said that they would look into the issue: “We do not tolerate such breaches of these principles and we will do all we can to ensure that this does not happen again.” Fingers crossed, MR/MRS spokesperson speaks the truth.

“We have implemented these remediation programmes despite the fact that this factory has nothing to do with Asos.”

ASOS has already looked into it and took actions to stop the practice. Even if this is just a one-off case, it promised a brighter future for three real children and 11 adults. The company has inspected and found 11 Syrian adults and three Syrian children under 16 at work in their Turkish factories. A spokesperson said they already took care of these employees by financially supporting the children to get them back to school and by paying the adults standard salaries until they will find legal jobs: “We have implemented these remediation programmes despite the fact that this factory has nothing to do with Asos.”

P.S. I cropped the featured imaged by accident (NOT)