WWD: Turkish Textile Industry Capitalizing on Syrian Refugee Crisis

May 18, 2016

By Dene-Hern Chen
with contributions from Onur Cakir

 Up to 500,000 Syrian refugees are estimated to be working in Turkey's textile industry, and many of them are children. (Credit: Dene-Hern Chen)

Up to 500,000 Syrian refugees are estimated to be working in Turkey's textile industry, and many of them are children. (Credit: Dene-Hern Chen)

ISTANBUL, Turkey – For Abdurahman, his job is a family affair.

Originally from Kobanî, a Syrian city bordering Turkey, he now toils daily in the basement of a small-scale factory stitching pants alongside his brother and his brother’s wife. Their nine-month-old baby is in the factory with them, swaddled among stacks of lightweight pants waiting to be folded.

Abdurahman’s 14-year-old son is there as well, bent over a sewing machine in the basement’s corner.

Working more than 10 hours a day for five days a week, Abdurahman receives about 1,400 Turkish liras a month, roughly $495. For an employee with his skills, he should be receiving nearly double that, he said.

“Turkish people get paid more,” the Syrian refugee told WWD in a hushed voice. “Also, the Turks get covered by insurance and I do not get insurance.”

Abdurahman is among the more than 2.5 million refugees who have fled Syria’s armed conflict since 2011. Since the refugee camps along the border can hold only 270,000 people, the majority of them have scattered into cities and joined the ranks of Turkey’s robust — and largely unregulated — apparel manufacturing sector.

As the government struggles to implement long-term solutions for the ballooning population, the country’s textile sector is employing scores of refugees. Manufacturers contend that squeezed profit margins are pushing them to employ these workers at low wages, yet there are allegations that labor and human rights abuses — including child exploitation — are rampant in the absence of adequate government protections.

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