Refugee children from Syria have been found making clothes sold in the UK in an undercover investigation by the BBC’s Panorama programme.
The programme investigated factories in Turkey and found children had been working on clothes for Marks & Spencer and Asos. One factory, which claimed to make clothes for Next, employed Turkish children and Syrian refugees, while the investigation also found Syrian refugees working illegally on Zara and Mango jeans.
Panorama found seven Syrian workers in one of M&S’s main factories, who often earned less than the Turkish minimum wage and were employed through a middleman who “paid them in cash on the street”.
A spokeswoman for M&S told Drapers: “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 labour law and how to legally employ Syrian workers.”
She said the firm had previously found no evidence of Syrian workers employed in its supplier factories and it was “disappointed by the findings, which are extremely serious and are unacceptable to M&S”.
M&S said it is working closely with the supplier in question to take remedial action, including offering permanent legal employment for any Syrian daily worker who has been employed in this factory.
Panorama found that most of the refugees did not have work permits and many worked illegally in the clothing industry.
The programme discovered several Syrian children at work in a backstreet factory in Istanbul, where an Asos sample was also found. Asos admitted to Panorama that its clothes were made in the factory but said it was not one of its approved factories. The etailer has carried out an inspection, which found 11 Syrian adults and three Syrian children working there. It told Panorama that the children would be financially supported so they could return to school, and the adult refugees would be paid a wage until they were found legal work.
A spokeswoman for Asos told Drapers: “It’s a subject we take incredibly seriously. But it would be wrong for us to comment on reporting we haven’t seen.”
Panorama also found Syrian refugees working without adequate protection in a factory that was distressing jeans for Mango and Zara using hazardous chemicals.
Mango said the factory was working as a subcontractor without its knowledge, and the firm will take the appropriate measures once it has “clarified the incident in a definitive manner”.
A spokeswoman for Zara’s parent company, Inditex, told Drapers that it has a “rigorous audit process” and last year carried out more than 1,000 audits in Turkey. She said it had “immediately investigated all the allegations which Panorama put to us”.
The laundry, Goreteks, which was shown during the programme, had already been audited before filming took place, and is the subject of improvement measures. The laundry was given until December to improve to remain within the Inditex supply chain.
“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,” said the spokeswoman.
“Inditex 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 programme has proven to be very effective in helping Syrian workers to legalise their work status.”
Finally Panorama found Syrian adults working alongside Turkish children in another Istanbul factory, whose owner said he was working for Next. However, Next said the pyjamas he showed the film crew were made by another supplier.
The programme, Undercover: The Refugees Who Make Our Clothes, airs tonight on BBC One at 8.30pm.