Corriere della Sera, October 18 1998

Child labour for Benetton in Turkey

Eight o' clock in the morning in the Kagithane neighbourhood, outskirts of Istanbul, on the European side of the Bosporus. De streets are filled with mud and holes. The sky is a roof of smog. We see the workers of the factories of Sanayi Mahallesi, an industry zone with textile companies. The eyes of Ozcan Babat, 12 years old, are sleepy but his three older brothers drag him with them to the entrance of the factory Bermuda: an ugly building with three stores, occupying between 250 and 350 people, according to the season. Ozcan should be going to school; according to the Turkish law and also to the international labour convention on the work of minors (which forbids the work of children younger than 14). And according to his face. Instead, Ozcan enters the factory each morning at 8. "Since a year I come to work here with my brothers. I work illegal, my brothers are hired legally. They pay me 22 million Turkish lire. There is no social security whatsoever, no social benefits. They pay me cash, once a week, a quarter of the total. I am happy. I don't complain. What I do? I saw long trousers. Which brand? Benetton naturally. We al make garments for Benetton. The questions raise suspicion with the brothers of Ozcan. In the end there is just time left to make some pictures. Then the four, three youngsters and a child, disappear. Mehmet Kocak is 11 years old. He also starts at eight in the morning and leaves at half past six in he evening. These days Bermuda is working on the orders of Benetton for the spring of '99. Or better, there is a flow of orders from Bogazici Hazir Giyim, the company that manages the orders for Benetton in Turkey, garment with the brand name Benetton, made with cloth that is send in directly from Italy. In the past months Benetton held two world wide publicity campaigns. One centres on children with a handicap. The other - with the multi-ethnicity of the United Colours of Benetton - is about he 50th anniversary of the declarations on human rights from the United Nations and the convention on the rights of the child. Article 23 of this convention states: "Undersigned acknowledge the right of children to be protected against economic exploitaton and the execution of labour that is dangerous or conflicts with the right on education." These concepts are miles away from the daily reality of a child like Mehmet Kocac. He also works for Bermuda since a year. "I hold the trousers of Benetton while an adult worker operates a sewing machines on the sides. If I like this? Mwa.... I sure don't like studying." He tells this a few minutes before he starts his shift. For 132.000 (Italian) lire a month, Mehmet is a piece in the long chain, from subcontractor to subcontractor, that produces garment that is sold at a much higher price than their wage. In store 012 of Benetton, specialised in clothes for children, in he centre of the same Istanbul where Mehmet works, the cost of a sweater for the winter is 38 million Turkish lire. To buy this, Mehmet and the other 25 to 30 children younger than 14 working at Bermuda, have to work one and a half month. Like Mehmet and Ozcan, Ercan Yildirim is a child worker from Turkish Kurdistan. He is 13 years old and during a work break, after lunch, he starts playing in one of the buildings of Bermuda. If a stranger approaches him and asks him if he works for Bermuda, a gatekeeper comes out of the building who threatens: "leave these premises, we have orders not to let anybody near." And the administrator, who thinks that we are businesspeople instead of journalists, says "we have an agreement with Bogazici that forbids entrance to anybody without permission. It's to protect the privacy of the Italian company." Bogazici Hazir Giyim and Benetton are strongly connected. The entrance of Bogazici - that has Italian shareholders - has a big Benetton sign. And the operators answer the phones with just one word: "Benetton". But to back up the heavy charges brought up by Turkish unions, the accounts of the children collected outside the factory in Bermuda are not sufficient. To prove the accusations one must personally enter the Bermuda factory, one of Benetton's primary subcontractors in Turkey, and see the children at work, photograph them, and have a statement of the chairperson of the factory. Find labels of Benetton on the clothes that are made inside. To get inside the factory, two journalists, one from Italy and the other from Turkey, had to act as an Italian garment industrialist and his Turkish interpreter. The Italian journalist works for the newspaper Corriere. The Turkish journalist, Ali Isingor, is the author of a research on the Turkish Mafia. He made the pictures supporting this article. The incognito journalists told the owner of the Bermuda factory, Ilyas Aruzade, that they were looking for documentation about the machine park of the factory in order to convince their company to relocate production to Turkey, to this factory. After some hesitation, Haruzade agreed. Enabling Ali Isingor to take pictures in the factory, while the journalist of Corriere discussed fabrics and the possibility to have quality controlers visit the factory. "It is all possible", Harunzade said, "Benetton, or Bogazici, they are the same, sends its own quality controlers every other two or three days." A lot of children that were interviewed and photographed at the entrance of the factory, at the beginning or ending of their shift, we saw working inside now. Smiling, in their blue working outfit, that made them look older. The working conditions are reasonably good. But for the working children, their childhood passes making clothes for Benetton, because they need the money or because they are Kurdish refugees from the civil war, the most vulnerable of the 12 million inhabitants of the metropolis between East and West. This Benetton production-chain consists of the mother company in Italy and Bogazici that places the orders in Turkey at Bermuda and several other large factories. In addition to this Bogazici has 24 to 30 small workshops producing for it. At the company Gorkem Spor Giyim, the owner Yusuf Eskenzai shows a Benetton-hat that one of his employees just finished. And a sweater for children. Eskenzai explains to the journalist who acts as a garment industrialist: "We produce for Benetton. Five thousand, ten thousand, how many they want, what they want. We cut fabrics by hand and sew the clothes here or at other workshops working for me." A part of the garments go to Italy. A part stays in Turkey or goes to the Turkish speaking parts of the ex-Soviet Union. On all labels it says: "Made in Italy".