The Syrian children who managed to flee the horrors and cruelty of war in their country are now working in Turkish sweatshops.
A new undercover investigation by BBC discovered that children as young as 15 are working in factories that reportedly make clothes for various U.K. brands, including Marks & Spencer, online retailer Asos, Zara and Mango.
The documentary, titled “Panorama — Undercover: The Refugees Who Make Our Clothes,” will broadcast Monday night. The investigators claim a factory, which apparently makes clothes for Next, employed both Turkish children and Syrian refugees.
Unsurprisingly, all the brands firmly denied the allegations.
In fact, they told the BBC they carefully monitor their supply chains in Turkey and do not tolerate the exploitation of refugees or child labor.
However, the Panorama documentary makers reportedly discovered at least seven Syrians working in a Turkish factory that supply for Marks & Spencer.
These refugees, mostly employed through an intermediary who pays them in cash on the street, earn a little more than a pound an hour, which is well below the minimum wage in Turkey.
The youngest worker, a 15-year-old boy, worked more than 12 hours a day ironing clothes. These clothes were then shipped to the United Kingdom.
“If anything happens to a Syrian, they will throw him away like a piece of cloth,” a child laborer told the documentary-makers, detailing the mistreatment they suffer in such sweatshops.
The researchers also alleged Syrian workers, tasked with spraying hazardous chemicals to bleach jeans for Mango and Zara, did not have even a basic facemask.
Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer has offered permanent legal employment to any Syrians found working in the factory.
“Ethical trading is fundamental to M&S. We are acutely aware of the complexity surrounding Syrian refugees in Turkey. 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,” a Marks & Spencer representative told The Independent. “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.”
Mango claimed it was unaware about the situation, while Zara's parent company Inditex said their factory inspections are a “highly effective way of monitoring and improving conditions.”
Asos accepted its clothes were made in a factory that employed several Syrian refugees, but also claimed it had not approved the establishment. The retailer conducted an inspection and discovered 11 Syrian adults and three Syrian children working there.
As various similar investigations and research studies have revealed, the refugees — particularly the children — are most vulnerable to exploitation. Employing them under such horrible conditions with a pitiful wage is not only a human rights abuse; it’s akin to slave labor.