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Next and H&M tackle use of Syrian children in factories

Next and H&M have taken action after Syrian refugee children were found working in their factories in Turkey last year. 

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, a non-profit organisation that monitors company ethics, asked 28 brands and retailers last month about their Turkish suppliers and their strategies for combating the exploitation of Syrian children and adults.

The report reveals that H&M and Next both uncovered the use of Syrian child labour in their factories in Turkey during 2015. Both companies said they had taken immediate action to return the children to education and support their families.

A spokesman for Next told Drapers the business had “invested strongly” in its audit processes, which helped it to successfully identify and tackle the issue.

He added: “Next acted swiftly and appropriately to deal with the problem and to support the vulnerable Syrian refugee workers involved. The business is also working with the Ethical Trading Initiative and other major retailers, as the situation in Turkey is vast in scale, given the 2.5 million refugees that have fled there. Next will continue to be proactive and take a responsible approach.”

H&M said it ”does not accept child labour”. A spokeswoman added: ”We have had a policy on child labour since 1997 and all of H&M’s suppliers have committed to follow our strict code of conduct.

”In the report we state that we identified one case of Syrian child labour in an embroidery factory in Turkey during 2015 and we terminated this business relationship immediately.

”We then informed our NGO partner to get their support on the remediation activities. The NGO created the action plan aligning with our policy by identifying the most suitable education option based on the need and aspiration.

“If H&M obtains any information that child labour occurs in any part of our supply chain, we directly take action and take all necessary measures. If a supplier, despite H&M’s regularly audits, employs a migrant worker without work permit H&M terminates its business relationship. If a migrant worker has a work permit, we ensure that they receive the same entitlements as the local workers.”

Primark and C&A told the BHRRC they had identified adult Syrian refugee workers. Arcadia, Adidas, Burberry, Nike, and Puma said no undocumented Syrian refugees were found in their supply chain.

All other brands that responded – including M&S, Asos, Debenhams and Superdry – did not answer the question about Syrian workers. Ten companies, including GAP, New Look and River Island, have yet to respond.

Turkey, one of the largest producers of clothing sold on the British high street, is also the world’s largest host of Syrian refugees, accepting more than 2.5 million people who have fled the conflict since 2011.

Phil Bloomer, executive director of the BHRRC, said: “No brands want child labour in their supply chain, but what matters is how vigorous they are in looking for it and what they do when they find it. Given reports from the ground indicate refugee child labour is common in Turkey, it is positive that two brands in our report identified this problem and took action to protect the children. We need all brands to show equal vigour in eliminating this curse.”

Phil Bulman, managing consultant at supply chain firm Vendigital, added: “Next and H&M have taken the correct stance by admitting the presence of child labour when questioned, but should take one step further and move towards complete transparency. The unethical and forced employment of refugees is a huge supply chain issue for UK businesses. As retailers continue to apply cost-pressure to their vendors, it is inevitable that some suppliers will be tempted to illegally utilise this influx of low-cost labour.”

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