Social compliance is essential in any manufacturing sector. In the apparel industry, adhering to set standards, practices, industry rules and government regulations can mean the difference between brand failure and brand success.
However, remaining socially compliant is often neglected in garment factories around the world, mainly due to the organizational costs involved with being socially compliant. Moreover, many brand’s manufacturing facilities are located in developing countries where worker exploitation and environmental damage often goes undetected. This is where the help of textile specialists comes in. They conduct various social audits to ensure that a brand’s entire supply chain conforms to recognized standards of production in order to produce high-quality products while maximizing profits.
In this blog post, we take a closer look at textile social compliance in the Turkish garment industry and what impact social & CSR audits can have on the industry.
The Turkish Textile Industry
The Turkish Textile Industry experienced widespread industrialization between 1920 and 1970 and began developing its thriving garment exporting industry on a mass scale in the 1980s. After China and Bangladesh, the Turkish clothing industry is the third largest cotton importer in the world, because their domestic output does not fully meet its demands.
Between 2009 and 2013, the sector experienced significant changes which lead to the gradual loss of its cost advantage. This was because of the trade liberalization as well as the constant search for educated and qualified workers which caused a nearly doubling of the textile industry worker’s salaries in Turkey. The garment sector also experienced a decline in exports in 2014 from $18.5bn in 2014 to about $17bn in 2016.
However, Turkey managed to recover from its cost advantage loss towards the end of 2016 as the Turkish Lira devalued by 40% against the Euro making exports easier. Because the Turkish textile industry is integrated, the negative effects of devaluation were only limited to raw fiber imports and energy costs. The apparel and textile industry in Turkey continues to experience consistent growth and still has growth potential for the future. Among the top 3 in the world, Turkey is the number one supplier to Europe in yarns and accounted for 16.7% of the EU’s total textile imports and 11.7% of clothing imports in 2015. Furthermore, the Istanbul Apparel Exporters’ Association (IHKIB) states that in 2016, textile exports to the EU rose 8.6% year-on-year in 2016 to $4.01bn. The UK was the textile sector’s biggest export market in Europe after Germany, accounting for 9% and receiving $2.01bn in ready-made garments in 2016.
Optimism runs high within the country’s textile sector, as exports have increased to markets like Iran, the Us, Algeria, Poland, Israel, and Bulgaria. Even though the sector has gone through several negative experiences in the past, an ambitious export target has been set, specifically for the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic of $72bn which is almost triple.
What are some of the problems?
As a result of last year’s ongoing war between Turkey’s neighboring countries, Syria and Iraq, many Turkish garment factories have been scrutinized for employing unregistered Syrian refugees who are subject to low wages and long working hours. Unfortunately, many garment factories owners may not be aware on how to register the refugees for a work permit, and they don’t have necessary systems put into place such as labor contracts and training needed to employ them.
There are a few typical employee and workplace grievances such as pay and benefits, workloads, working conditions, union and management relations and poor labor relations. Implementing grievance systems are crucial for adhering to international garment compliance standards, but, these methods are rarely enforced in factories in Turkey, and those that do, don’t always present best practices. Another problem that often arises is that employers use manipulation tactics to coach their workers to say the right thing when anaudit is being conducted.
How can textile specialists help?
Working with third-party textile quality specialists will ensure that compliance standards are met throughout your entire supply chain. In some cases, brands may not be aware of the worker exploitation that occurs in some of their second-tier and third-tier suppliers’ factories. Quality specialists put a stop to any social issues through remediation. They provide adequate education to factory owners, management, and workers about communication and how to do so efficiently within the factory across all departments.
They allow factory owners to experience the full benefits of grievance systems which are the increased happiness and productivity of employees, a better working environment and a decrease in absenteeism and employee turnover. To prevent any management from interfering during their factory assessments, they start interviews with employees on the production floor as well as in the lunch hall. They also begin the social audit from the minute they walk into the factory to prevent management from hiding any unregistered laborers.
Social audit risks tend to be prominent with subcontractors. Therefore, textile specialists use audits as a tool to investigate and map subcontractor’s activity to bring visibility to the supply chain as well as set further action to mitigate the reputational risks. However, social audits are not only used to assess a factory’s compliance but also to help educate both management and employees about labor laws, safety regulations, and best practices.
For example, Turkey has set up a clear and well-structured legal framework which makes it very easy to get work permits for refugees who are under temporary protection. Specialists can assist factory owners with obtaining work permits for refugees by getting them registered with the government after which they’ll receive a temporary identification document. Since Syrian refugees can’t provide a high level of documentation (diploma, birth certificate, wedding certificate, etc.), the legislation requires no physical paperwork for refugees who apply for work permits as foreigners under temporary protection. The application can be made online by the employer via the e-Government website (www.turkiye.gov.tr or www.calismaizni.gov.tr).
However, in many cases, social noncompliance is a result of lack of awareness and resources, rather than the unwillingness to be cooperative. Therefore, working with textile specialists is the best way to ensure textile social compliance for your apparel brand.
Do you have any questions regarding social compliance, social audits or the apparel industry in general?
We’re the experts and would love to help! Please feel free to leave a comment below, we’ll happily respond!