European chains ‘profit on back of Syrian refugees in Turkish factories’

Syrian refugee boys seen working at a small textile factory in Gaziantep, Turkey, in this July 2016 file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 03 November 2017

European chains ‘profit on back of Syrian refugees in Turkish factories’

LONDON: Some of Europe’s biggest stores are failing to stem the abuse of Syrian refugees who work in the Turkish factories that supply their clothes, a business pressure group said on Friday.
The Business and Human Rights Resource Center (BHRRC) called on the worst offenders — from fashion icon Topshop to discounter Aldi — to better protect refugee workers who have fled war only to suffer workplace exploitation in their new home.
Low wages, discrimination and poor conditions are common for Syrian refugees working in Turkey’s multibillion-dollar garment industry, where child labor is also a problem, said the BHRRC.
“Some high street fashion brands ... have made progress in protecting workers, but too many, like Aldi, Asda and Topshop, are lagging way behind,” Phil Bloomer, executive director of the BHRRC, said in a statement.
“They should learn from the leaders, and quickly.”
The Britain-based charity surveyed 37 major European brands with Turkish factories in their supply chains on the policies and practices undertaken to tackle the abuse of workers.
Companies including supermarket chains Aldi and Asda and fashion retailer Arcadia — which owns the Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge brands — are not doing enough to stop the exploitation, the BHRRC survey found.
ASOS, New Look, Next, SuperDry and Zara were the top ranking brands in the survey; Asda and Arcadia came bottom. Six companies, including Mexx and River Island, failed to respond.
The charity said more brands had boosted efforts to clean up their supply chains compared to last year, with the top performers establishing plans to protect refugees, mechanisms to handle complaints, and initiating dialogue with workers’ groups.
More than 3 million Syrian refugees — about half aged under 18 — have fled to Turkey to escape a war that erupted in 2011.
About 650,000 are estimated to be working in Turkey, many in the garment industry, yet most lack work permits, leaving them at greater risk of abuse, the BHRRC said.
A Reuters investigation last year found evidence of Syrian refugee children in Turkey working in clothes factories in illegal conditions. Turkey bans children under 15 from working.
“The Syrian refugee crisis poses a complex challenge for retailers sourcing garments from Turkey,” said Peter McAllister, head of the Ethical Trading Initiative, an alliance of trade unions, firms and charities promoting workers’ rights.
“Refugees are particularly vulnerable to exploitation,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “More needs to be done, but we are confident our member companies are taking it seriously.”
A spokesman for Walmart, which owns Asda, said the company was exploring how to address the risks to vulnerable workers in its global supply chain, with a focus on ethical recruitment.
The British Retail Consortium, which counts Aldi among its members, said more needed to be done to prevent exploitation.
The chairman of the Istanbul Apparel Exporters’ Association, which represents three-quarters of Turkey’s clothing exporters, said Syrian refugee workers holding work permits were protected by the country’s “very strict laws” on working regulations.
“Portraying a few exceptional cases that could happen even in the most developed countries around the world as Turkey’s reality is not befitting of fairness and good intentions,” Hikmet Tanriverdi said in a statement on Friday.
Topshop declined to comment on the BHRRC survey, Arcadia did not respond to requests for comment, and Mexx and River Island could not be reached.

Malaysia reviews China infrastructure plans

Malaysia’s former PM Najib Razak (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2018

Malaysia reviews China infrastructure plans

  • Malaysia's scandal-mired former PM Najib Razak signed a string of deals for Beijing-funded projects, including a major rail link and a deep-sea port.
  • New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has announced a planned high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Singapore will not go ahead as he seeks to reduce the country’s huge national debt.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has been a loyal partner in China’s globe-spanning infrastructure drive, but its new government is to review Beijing-backed projects, threatening key links in the much-vaunted initiative.

Kuala Lumpur’s previous regime, led by scandal-mired Najib Razak, had warm ties with China, and signed a string of deals for Beijing-funded projects, including a major rail link and a deep-sea port.

But the long-ruling coalition was unexpectedly voted out last month by an electorate alienated by allegations of corruption and rising living costs.

Critics have said that many agreements lacked transparency, fueling suspicions they were struck in exchange for help to pay off debts from the financial scandal which ultimately helped bring down Najib’s regime.

The new government, led by political heavyweight Mahathir Mohammed, has pledged to review Chinese deals seen as dubious, calling into question Malaysia’s status as one of Beijing’s most cooperative partners in its infrastructure push.

China launched its initiative to revive ancient Silk Road trading routes with a global network of ports, roads and railways — dubbed “One Belt, One Road” —  in 2013.

Malaysia and Beijing ally Cambodia were seen as bright spots in Southeast Asia, with projects in other countries often facing problems, from land acquisition to drawn-out negotiations with governments.

“Malaysia under Najib moved quickly to approve and implement projects,” Murray Hiebert, a senior associate from think-tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told AFP.

Chinese foreign direct investment into Malaysia stood at just 0.8 percent of total net FDI inflows in 2008, but that figure had risen to 14.4 percent by 2016, according to a study from Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

However, Hiebert said it was “widely assumed” that Malaysia was striking quick deals with China in the hope of getting help to cover debts from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Najib and his associates were accused of stealing huge sums of public money from the investment vehicle in a massive fraud. Public disgust at the allegations — denied by Najib and 1MDB — helped topple his government.

Malaysia’s first change of government in six decades has left Najib facing a potential jail term.

New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has announced a planned high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Singapore will not go ahead as he seeks to reduce the country’s huge national debt.

The project was in its early stages and had not yet received any Chinese funding as part of “One Belt, One Road.” But Chinese companies were favorites to build part of the line, which would have constituted a link in a high-speed route from China’s Yunnan province to trading hub Singapore, along which Chinese goods could have been transported for export.

Work has already started in Malaysia on another line seen as part of that route, with Chinese funding — the $14-billion East Coast Rail Link, running from close to the Thai border to a port near Kuala Lumpur.

Mahathir has said that agreement is now being renegotiated.

Other Chinese-funded initiatives include a deep-sea port in Malacca, near important shipping routes, and an enormous industrial park.

It is not clear yet which projects will be amended but experts believe axing some will be positive.

Alex Holmes, Asia economist for Capital Economics, backed canceling some initiatives, citing “Malaysia’s weak fiscal position and that some of the projects are of dubious economic value.”

The Chinese foreign ministry did not respond to request for comment.


What is the "One Belt, One Road" initiative?

The “One Belt, One Road” initiative, started in 2013, has come to define the economic agenda of President Xi Jinping. It aims to revive ancient Silk Road trading routes with a network of ports, roads and railways.