Foreign child workers exploited in sweatshops in Istanbul’s Küçükpazar
Burak Coşan – ISTANBULThe Küçükpazar neighborhood of Istanbul’s Fatih district has become a center of sweatshops, where children from outside Turkey are forced to work in shocking conditions.
The large commercial buildings in the narrow streets of Küçükpazar, behind the historical Süleymaniye Mosque, are today home to textile ateliers where many Syrians, Pakistanis, Iraqis and Turkmens can be spotted. Dozens of these workshops produce fake bags, mostly for export to Iraq.
In one of the basement sweatshops where shirts are being produced, Hürriyet witnessed children working in conditions with no air conditioning or windows.
Around 25 people were working in a tiny space corresponding to around double the size of a living room, including three children aged between 10 and 14. One of the children does ironing while the others do the packaging, working constantly from one duty to the next without stopping.
While the proportion of migrants in the sweatshop is very high, there are very few Turkish people working.
The children could not respond to questions as they could not speak Turkish well, though one of the Turkish children said he understood the questions but did not want to answer.
“Talk to the boss,” he said, pointing to the manger’s room.
The manager, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was struggling to keep the business alive and had been forced to discharge a number of workers. He also claimed that the adults in the sweatshop were earning the minimum wage of 1,300 Turkish Liras (around $360).
When asked about the child workers, he failed to answer for a couple of minutes before saying they receive “pocket money” and do “not officially work for the business.”
“They are the children of my friends and are here to learn the job,” he said.
One worker in the sweatshop, who was doing the ironing during Hürriyet’s visit, said their salary depended on the work they does. They said wages range between 800 and 1000 liras per month, though the children earn much less.
“It depends on their age and the job they do. Those who are ironing earn nearly 600 liras. Those running errands earn a maximum of 400 liras,” he said, adding that they work for up to 12 hours a day.
There are many other sweatshops in the same building, some of which allowed Hürriyet to go inside and some of which shut the door saying “the boss isn’t here.”
One manager did not want to reveal which brands they were producing the clothes for.
“We are producing for the market. They order what products they want and we produce accordingly. Our products are being sold in many spots in Turkey, but goods for export are generally produced in the building we’re in,” he said, adding that most of the products are exported to northern Iraq.
Child workers were seen carrying packages in the corridors bearing the logos of well-known brands. When one was asked if they were producing for famous brands, he replied by saying they obtained the packages from outside and production for the brands was not done inside the building.
The security officer in front of the building said there were nearly 800 workers in the building in previous years but this number had now fallen to 250.
The situation of child workers in sweatshops in Turkey, particularly Syrian migrant children, was previously reported by several foreign media outlets, including the BBC and the Guardian.