LONDON — Marks & Spencer said Monday it is “disappointed” with the findings of an undercover investigation by the BBC’s weekly program “Panorama” revealing that Syrian refugee children are making clothes in Turkish factories that supply a group of British and European high street brands.
Slated to air Monday evening, the investigative program points the finger at Marks & Spencer, Asos and Next for using refugee child labor and Zara and Mango for exploiting its adult workforce. It alleges that refugees earn a little more than one pound, or $1.22, per hour, lower than the Turkish minimum wage. The program also flags poor working conditions and says the majority of the refugees are working illegally.
The BBC program traveled undercover to various factories in Turkey and discovered that children have been making clothes for Marks & Spencer, Next and Asos while adults were working 12-hour days on Zara and Mango jeans. Adults were applying bleaching materials to jeans without wearing face masks. In another Istanbul factory, Panorama found children producing pajamas for the British high street clothing chain Next.
Panorama says the children are recruited through a middleman.
“We are acutely aware of the complexity surrounding Syrian refugees in Turkey,” said a spokeswoman for Marks & Spencer. “We have a local team on the ground in Turkey who have visited all of our suppliers there. They have also run supplier workshops on the Syrian refugee crisis highlighting the change in labor law and how to legally employ Syrian workers. We had previously found no evidence of Syrian workers employed in factories that supply us, so we were very disappointed by these findings, which are extremely serious and are unacceptable to M&S. We are working closely with this supplier to take remedial action, including offering permanent legal employment, in support of any Syrian daily worker who has been employed in this factory.”
The M&S spokeswoman said ethical trading is a top priority.
“All of our suppliers are contractually required to comply with our Global Sourcing Principles, which cover what we expect and require of them and their treatment of workers. We do not tolerate such breaches of these principles and we will do all we can to ensure that this does not happen again,” she added.
M&S has collaborated with green campaigner Livia Firth — who is a supporter of M&S’s production methods — on eco–friendly capsule ranges in the past.
Inditex, the parent company of Zara, said it investigated all the allegations Panorama put against them, and added that the factories with which it works do not employ children.
“It is worth noting that the factory BBC refers to — Goreteks — is a laundry and it had already been audited by Inditex before Panorama’s filming took place. It is currently the subject of improvement measures, most of them related to safety issues. When our audits uncover problems, Inditex works with the factory to implement improvement plans, because our strong belief is that supporting factories to improve conditions delivers the best outcome for workers rather than walking away. However, if facilities fail to address the shortcomings we have found, we would terminate work with the facility in question. Goreteks has until December to improve to remain within Inditex’s supply chain.”
With regard to the situation of Syrian refugees, Inditex said the company has pioneered a dedicated remediation plan to support Syrian workers in Turkey. “We do this in partnership with the non-profit Refugee Support Centre, and this program has proven to be very effective in helping Syrian workers to legalize their work status. The Syrian refugee crisis is a complex challenge affecting all sectors in Turkey, and while there are no easy answers, we are absolutely focused on tackling this issue. We can do this because our rigorous audit process has shown to be a highly effective way of monitoring and improving conditions for workers at all levels of our supply chain. We strongly reject any suggestion to the contrary. Last year, Inditex carried out over 1,000 audits in Turkey, where we have nearly 400 people dedicated to ensuring standards are maintained.”
In a statement, Mango said it is “aware of the delicate situation concerning the textile industry in Turkey” and it is “paying special attention to its activities and processes in this country.”
Mango directly employs more 1,500 people in stores and head offices in Turkey, one of its top-five markets.
“Consequently, Mango abides by all regulations. In 2015, Mango conducted a total of 396 audits, 125 of which corresponded to Turkish facilities. So far in 2016, we have conducted 174 audits in Turkey. The Mango Suppliers Code of Conduct is improved on a continuous basis to allow the discovery of the real working conditions at its suppliers’ facilities. Mango has zero tolerance towards the practices described in the Panorama program. The company referred to, Goreteks Tekstil, did not receive any order during the month of August 2016, is not a supplier of Mango and is not even on record as a supplier of any Mango supplier company.”
Meanwhile Asos and Next said that they could not comment at this time as they have not seen the segment.
Panorama’s “Undercover: The Refugees Who Make Our Clothes” was reported by Darragh MacIntyre.