“Made in Europe”? Check Again

Imagine we love some shoes from a shop which are affordable, and we instantly want to buy them. Sometimes, if we are so inclined, we check the tag saying “Made in Europe” to see whether it was made under good conditions. Sometimes we don’t even think about the labor that has gone into that pair, we just buy them. Although it might be hard for us consumers to understand, there are some organizations that work towards making fashion production and consumption ethical for everyone.

The Clean Clothes Campaign, the largest alliance of labor unions of the garment industry, tries to shine a light on the garment production. The union states that “The Clean Clothes Campaign is dedicated to improving working conditions and supporting the empowerment of workers in the global garment and sportswear industries.” Even though The Clean Clothes Campaign is an alliance of organizations in 16 European countries, Turkey, a part of the Middle East, is a country that they work in to explore the fundamental rights of workers and to make sure that they are valued.

According to The Clean Clothes Campaign’s report on Turkey, Stitched Up, there are 6,369 leather, 17,050 textile and 33,619 garment factories registered in the country. There are 508,00 registered and 1,500,000 unregistered workers in the shoe and garment industry only. The report points out that in the last 25 years Turkey’s garment industry has been steadily growing. One of the main reasons for the fashion industry to start working with factories in Turkey is the fact that Turkey is a country between Europe and the Middle East and can easily be categorized as Europe – therefore the products are allowed to bear the tag “Made in Europe”.

However, Stitched Up unfortunately reports that “poverty pay is endemic across the garment industry and that the idea of ‘Made in Europe’ or more expensive clothing being made in better conditions is just a myth.” As the second reason for the choice of Turkey is the slogan “Cheaper than China”, if Turkey is Europe and the garments produced are better quality, how come it can be cheaper?

First of all, there is the wage issue. According to Stitched Up, the wages in the factories in Turkey are below a living wage. People, especially women, work under harsh and sometimes dangerous conditions for a wage that they cannot even live on. The wage deductions for the days they miss, such as for being ill, and the fact that some factories use an unregistered worker system makes the conditions bad for the garment production workers. Most of the time, the workers are women that come from the villages from the Eastern Anatolian Region, Turkey’s cheap backyard, as put by The Clean Clothes Campaign. Those women are usually young and they are trying to prepare their dowry before marriage. They are sometimes women and young girls who need to support their family. They might even be children whose family cannot afford their school fees and send them to work instead.

Stitched Up reports that the workers in the city of Batman, for example, earn approximately 730 TL (238 Euro) and their average living costs are 1,020 TL (332 Euro). The workers, men, women and children, often work overtime to cover their expenses, which creates an exhausted and underpaid workforce. A Turkish worker states that “If there is no overtime, there is no money. Because our wage is not enough as you can see. How can I make my living when I pay 950 TL for our house and what remains is not enough for the rest of the cost?” Furthermore, there have been even times that the workers are not paid at all for months. In 2012, Li & Fung, one of the largest apparel sourcing companies in the world, refused to pay 2.038 Hey Tekstil workers in Turkey 4.7 million EUR of overdue wages, for example. In the end, in February 2014, Hey Tekstil announced bankruptcy. Underpaying or not paying the garment production workers might be the reason why those shoes cost so little.

Stitched Up reports that some of the biggest brands across Europe, including Hugo Boss, Zara and H&M, are producing some of their products in Turkey, under these conditions. It is high time we pointed out that, the tag saying “Made in Europe” does not necessarily mean that the garments were produced under decent working conditions. Don’t get us wrong – we love fashion and are aware that expensive clothing is not affordable for the most of us. However, shouldn’t the workers be treated ethically? We rightfully believe so.