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Exploitation and the Turkish Textile Industry

Analyst: Micaela Hanely

Team Leader: Ernest Tam


The textile industry in Turkey has sky-rocketed to become the fourth largest clothing manufacturer in the world and the top in Europe. However, despite its rapid growth, the industry offers poor working conditions and wages significantly lower than the minimum wage to its workers; Turkish workers are the most underprivileged in Europe due to workplace accidents and deaths being very common . According to the ‘Better Life Index’ of OECD countries, Turkish people are less satisfied with their lives than the average of all countries. On a scale from 0-10, Turkish people gave an average score of 5.5, one of the lowest.

The NGO ‘Clean Clothes Campaign’ (CCC) has conducted research which exposes the life of textile industry workers in eastern European Union countries and Turkey. The NGO, CCC, found that while the minimum wage in Turkey is 1611 liras per month, textile workers within the country earn 1096 liras. Both the average household net adjusted disposable income per capita and the average household net financial wealth per capita are lower than the OECD averages. Due to the large amount of informal textile workers, employers rarely pay minimum wage; more than 40 percent of workers are informally employed. A trade unionist of DISK, Hasan Arslan, stated, “The wages paid in Turkey’s garment industry are barely enough to survive.”

Turkey ranks third globally in terms of industrial related accidents and first in Europe. The required hours of work per week in Turkey by law is 45 hours, but the industry averages a 67-hour work week where overtime pay is either low or nonexistent. In comparison to other OECD countries, Turkey exceeds all other countries in the amount of people who work long hours with 39% of the population. The conditions of the textile factories were called “murderous” by the Textile, Knitting and Clothing Industry Workers’ Union (TEKSIF). Arslan said he blames both the Turkish textile employers and the Turkish government for the poor working conditions and wages under the minimum wage. He addresses that the solution to such problems could be solved by the government and the textile industry employers working together to unionize the industry; only seven percent of the workers in Turkey are currently unionized.

Children as young as 13 are eligible for part-time employment and illegal children labour is common in Turkey; full-time employment age of eligibility is 15. The widespread poverty in Turkey results in many young teenagers being taken advantage of and promised high wages in order to provide for themselves. Turkey has long been a member of the International Labour Organization/International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour (ILO/EPEC) since 1992, but child labour as well as children working in poor working conditions still persists as national regulations have not been effectively enforced. Many of these children drop out of school to enable themselves to work longer hours; many become injured or lose their lives due to heavy machinery and inappropriate working conditions which in turn cause malnutrition and other chronic health problems. The Syrian refugee crisis correlates with the increase of child labour in Turkey in 2015; specifically, the amount of child labour in the textile industry has increased. Children being exploited in the textile industry typically earn less than half of what an employer would pay an adult worker.

 Globalization and large organization have collectively worsened the conditions of workers due to the need for cheap labour. Structural Adjustment programs (SAPs) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have caused labour to become cheaper and the standard of living to reduce in the areas of these programs. They benefit the multinational companies (MNCs), but harm the workers. The amount of social inequality between Turkish people is rated among the top five OECD countries for the highest amounts of inequality. The rapid increase of globalization has caused competition between MNCs to expand, thus also increasing the need for cheap labour. Governments tend to intensify the issue of unionizing by banning trade union federations in retaliation for their support; confidence and trust in these governments is then lost and social, economic and political issues arise. The International Trade Union Confederation conducted an index outlining the world’s worst countries to work in. Turkey was labelled under the category of the worst countries: countries with “no guarantee of rights.” The index states that although Turkey (and other similarly ranked countries) have legislature which defines certain rights of workers, workers have no access to these rights and thus face unfair labour practices.

The government in Turkey has also worsened the conditions of workers due to the restrictions they have placed on unionizing and striking. Turkish law previously prohibited the right to strike prior to collective bargaining. A union must represent “50 percent plus one” of employees at a particular workplace and 10 percent of workers from said branch of industry nationwide to be able to become a bargaining agent. Due to criticisms from the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Turkish government has allowed civil servants the right to unionize, but continues to prohibit them from striking or bargaining collectively. Without the ability to strike, the workers face a difficult task in challenging their employers.

Textile workers in Egypt have faced similar working conditions to those in Turkey, and the relationship between the government and the workers have suffered. In 2015, Egypt’s largest public textile factory faced a strike including 17, 000 workers. The strike arose from employees not receiving a bonus in which they thought they deserved. The Chairman of this industry stated that each day the strike continued, the company was losing EGP 4 million per day. Turkey’s harsh working conditions could lead to similar strike conditions; thus resulting in loss of profit and negative publicity which may cause consumer boycotting. The strike in Egypt resulted in workers being fired, forced to retire; some were charged with instigating strikes. These actions from the company and the government caused the workers to accuse the company as well as the government of being corrupt and neglecting employment rights; some of which ended in lawsuits. A lawyer fighting some of the chargers stated, “Instead of celebrating Labour Day in Egypt, perhaps we should start celebrating the ‘Day of Punitive Dismissals.’” Without addressing the working conditions and the complaints from workers about their pay, Turkey could endure the same nature of strike as Egypt did. Turkey companies would lose millions of liras; the Turkish government has already received complaints and accusations of corruption from textile workers.

Remapping the stream of textile products from Turkish factories to the companies which sell the products would mitigate the root causes of poor working conditions in the textile industry. Altering the pathways of trade between the producers and the sellers would enable fair labour NGO’s, such as the Fair Labour Association and Development Workshop Cooperative, and governmental institutions to adjust the system in such a way that the companies who benefit the most are those who have proper working conditions, pay legal wages, and do not abuse the rights of citizens. The insertion of tools and procedures to enhance working conditions is necessary as well as tools to expose the risks facing different demographic groups.