Turkish authorities, textile industry lash out at BBC report on Syrian refugee labor
ISTANBULTurkish authorities and textile players have slammed a recent BBC Panorama report on Syrian refugees and children working in factories in Turkey to make clothes for British high street retailers.
In an Oct. 24 broadcast titled “Undercover: Refugees Who Make Our Clothes,” BBC Panorama reported that Syrian refugees and children were working illegally in poor conditions to make clothes for British retailers, which are one of the largest customers for Turkish textile producers and exporters.
The head of the Istanbul Ready-Made Garment Exporters’ Association (İHKİB), Hikmet Tanrıverdi, complained that child workers who were employed by informal and fly-by-night manufacturers were "secretly videotaped" and that BBC Panorama had launched a "smear campaign" against the whole industry.
“As İHKİB, we investigated the issue and saw that the fly-by-night manufacturers in the story did not produce for any of the global brands that were mentioned in the same report. The BBC reporter applied to a big brand, which had earlier worked with this fly-by-night manufacturer, and asked for new output as if it was being requested by the big brand. This is a fabricated scenario. We strongly condemn such unethical reporting with no solid proof that aims to create a bad image about our industry,” Tanrıverdi said Oct. 26 in a joint press conference with the Turkish Clothing Manufacturers’ Association (TGSD).
“We found it very interesting to see a reporter from a foreign media institution who manipulated her sources and conducted secret shooting while concealing her identity,” he said, adding that sector organizations were not approached by the broadcast team for comment.
“Here, we frankly declare that any manufacturer which illegally employs child labor is a traitor,” Tanrıverdi said, while also calling on everyone to report such manufacturers to the Turkish authorities.
Tanrıverdi also said global brands which outsource manufacturing to Turkey inspect their producers very tightly and refuse to tolerate any labor abuses.
“In addition, the use of child labor is strictly forbidden by Turkish authorities,” said Tanrıverdi.
“We hereby invite the BBC representatives to visit Turkey. Let’s visit and tour all manufacturers which make production for global brands one by one. They will set the dates for these tours. If they find any child laborer, we are ready to face any sanctions,” he said.
TGSD President Şeref Fayat said it was unfair to present all Turkish textile exporters as abusers of child labor solely through some images that were secretly videotaped in a fly-by-night manufacturer, noting that all formal manufacturers were strictly monitored and inspected.
Turkey’s ambassador to the United Kingdom also protested the documentary.
Abdurrahman Bilgiç wrote on Oct. 24 to the editor of Panaroma following the BBC report. “Turkey strictly abides by international norms that relate to child labor,” he said. “Moreover Turkey has reformed its internal legislation accordingly.”
Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Turkey has pursued an open-door policy toward Syrians, Bilgiç said, adding that there were around 853,000 school-age children, 310,000 of who are eligible to receive education.
“Against this backdrop of Turkey’s stance against child labor and efforts to help Syrian refugees with a particular emphasis on children, your television program displays Turkey as an unfriendly environment for child refugees,” he said.
“This regrettable approach risks not only undermining Turkey’s unprecedented assistance to refugees but also tarnishes the increasing trade relations between Turkey and the United Kingdom,” he said.